Obituary: Mike Connors, US TV actor

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2009 file photo, actor Mike Connors is shown at a dedication ceremony for actor Peter Graves' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Connors, who played a hard-hitting private eye on the long-running TV series "Mannix," has died at age 91. His son-in-law, Mike Condon, says the actor died Thursday afternoon, Jan. 26, 2017, at a Los Angeles hospital from recently-diagnosed leukemia. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2009 file photo, actor Mike Connors is shown at a dedication ceremony for actor Peter Graves' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Connors, who played a hard-hitting private eye on the long-running TV series "Mannix," has died at age 91. His son-in-law, Mike Condon, says the actor died Thursday afternoon, Jan. 26, 2017, at a Los Angeles hospital from recently-diagnosed leukemia. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)
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Mike Connors, who starred as a hard-hitting private eye on the long-running US television series Mannix, has died. He was 91.

The actor died surrounded by family on Thursday afternoon at a Los Angeles hospital from leukemia that had been diagnosed a week earlier, said his son-in-law, Mike Condon.

Mannix ran for eight years on CBS beginning in 1967. Viewers were intrigued by the tall, smartly dressed, well-spoken detective who could mix it up with the burliest of thugs and leap on the hood of a racing car to prevent an escape. Episodes normally climaxed with a brawl that left the culprits bruised and beaten.

“Up until Mannix, most private investigators were hard-nosed, cynical guys who lived in a seedy area and had no emotions,” Connors said in 1997. “Mannix got emotionally involved. He was not above being taken advantage of.”

In the first season, Joe Mannix was a self-employed Los Angeles private investigator hired by a firm that used computers and hi-tech equipment to uncover crime. The ratings were lukewarm.

Connors feared the series would be canceled but it was produced by Lucille Ball’s Desilu studio, and CBS was reluctant to antagonise its biggest star.

In the second season, Mannix opened his own office and combatted low-lifes by himself. The ratings zoomed.

When Mannix was revised the office acquired a secretary, played by African-American actress Gail Fisher. The network was concerned that affiliate stations in the South might object to her character but “there wasn’t any kind of backlash,” Connors recalled. Another highlight was the theme music by screen composer Lalo Schifrin.

Connors also starred in the TV series Tightrope! and Today’s FBI. Each lasted just one season. His movie and TV career stretched from the 1950s to 2007, when he had a guest role on the sitcom Two and a Half Men. Connors made his film debut in 1952’s Sudden Fear, which starred Joan Crawford. Other films included Island in the Sky, The Ten Commandments, and a remake of Stagecoach.

Connors, born Krekor Ohanian in 1925, was from an Armenian community in Fresno, California. He served in the Air Force during the Second World War and played basketball at the University of California, Los Angeles.

After graduation he studied law for two years but his good looks and imposing presence attracted him to acting. In an era when film actors were given names like Tab and Rock, he appeared as Touch Connors – “Touch” being his basketball nickname. He later changed it to Michael and finally, Mike.

Connors and his wife, Mary Lou, were married in 1949 and had two children: a son, Matthew, and a daughter, Dana. Their son, beset by hallucinations starting in his teens, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and before his death lived in a small residential care facility. Connors and his wife championed efforts to erase the stigma of mental illness.

In addition to his wife, daughter and son-in-law, Connors is survived by a granddaughter, Cooper Wills.

ROBERT JABLON