McCallum — who starred as Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard on the CBS procedural — died of natural causes at New York Presbyterian Hospital on Monday
David McCallum, who was best known for playing Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on NCIS has died. He was 90.
The actor died “peacefully” of natural causes surrounded by family at New York Presbyterian Hospital on Monday, CBS announced.
“He was the kindest, coolest, most patient and loving father. He always put family before self. He looked forward to any chance to connect with his grandchildren, and had a unique bond with each of them,” his son Peter McCallum shared in a statement on behalf of the family. “He and his youngest grandson, Whit, 9, could often be found in the corner of a room at family parties having deep philosophical conversations.”
The statement continued, “He was a true renaissance man—he was fascinated by science and culture and would turn those passions into knowledge. For example, he was capable of conducting a symphony orchestra and (if needed) could actually perform an autopsy, based on his decades-long studies for his role on NCIS.”
“After returning from the hospital to their apartment, I asked my mother if she was OK before she went to sleep. Her answer was simply, 'Yes. But I do wish we had had a chance to grow old together.' She is 79, and dad just turned 90. The honesty in that emotion shows how vibrant their beautiful relationship and daily lives were, and that somehow, even at 90, Daddy never grew old.”
NCIS executive producers Steven D. Binder and David North also shared their memories of working with McCallum.
“For over twenty years, David McCallum endeared himself to audiences around the world playing the wise, quirky, and sometimes enigmatic, Dr. Donald 'Ducky' Mallard,” they shared in a statement. “But as much as his fans may have loved him, those who worked side by side with David loved him that much more. He was a scholar and a gentleman, always gracious, a consummate professional, and never one to pass up a joke.”
They shared, “From day one, it was an honor to work with him and he never let us down. He was, quite simply, a legend. He was also family and will be deeply missed.”
In their own statement, CBS wrote of the news: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of David McCallum and privileged that CBS was his home for so many years. David was a gifted actor and author, and beloved by many around the world.”
“He led an incredible life, and his legacy will forever live on through his family and the countless hours on film and television that will never go away,” the statement continued. “We will miss his warmth and endearing sense of humor that lit up any room or soundstage he stepped onto, as well as the brilliant stories he often shared from a life well-lived. Our hearts go out to his wife Katherine and his entire family, and all those who knew and loved David.”
A previously announced NCIS 20th anniversary marathon scheduled for CBS's Monday primetime block will now feature an “In Memoriam” card honoring McCallum.
After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and doing several years in repertory theater in the United Kingdom, the Scotland-born actor moved to America in 1961. He landed the role of Illya Kuryakin in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. opposite Robert Vaughn. He earned two Emmy and a Golden nomination for the role.
He recalled in a January 2023 interview with The Emmys, “I was out of work and had bills to pay, and [my friend, actor] Charlie Bronson knew that was the case. He said, ‘Why don't we have lunch in the commissary at MGM and we'll see what happens?’ So we went. When you're a kid from Glasgow who's watched movies growing up, and all of a sudden you're in this cathedral which is the MGM commissary, with all the pictures on the wall and people walking around who you've seen on the screen — I just was carried away.”
“I met Sam Rolfe [creator of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.] at that lunch, and I think a seed was planted. I was then called by my agent, who said, ‘You've been offered three television series. One is to play Alexander the Great. Another is to play Judas Iscariot’ — I'd just played Judas in The Greatest Story Ever Told — ‘And the other is a thing called Solo, which is based to a certain extent on the Bond books.’ It wasn't called Solo in the end because there was a conflict with the Bond rights, so it became The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
NCIS fans will remember McCallum as Chief Medical Examiner Donald "Ducky" Mallard who is a close friend of Mark Harmon’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs and became a father figure to the cast of characters on the procedural. He recalled his interview with The Emmys how his character developed his signature look.
“Well, Don [Bellisario, creator of NCIS] insisted on that hat. He said, "He's got to wear a hat." I said, "We're shooting in two minutes." He said, ‘Well, get a hat,’” he said. “So I went up to wardrobe and I found that [stone-colored Fedora-shaped safari hat], which is still, twenty years later, Ducky's hat.”
“Now Ducky is retired. I decided to leave the show, and they said, ‘No, we'd like to make you the historian,’ which was very gratifying because it meant that CBS liked that I was around.”
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On the big screen, he took on roles in The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Great Escape, Mosquito Squadron, Billy Budd, Freud and A Night to Remember.
He was also featured on television shows including The Education of Max Bickford, Sapphire and Steel, Colditz, Trainer, VR5, Motherlove, Kidnapped, The Outer Limits, Law & Order and Sex and the City, and was a voice actor on the Toon Disney show The Replacements.
Off screen, McCallum recorded three albums of instrumental interpretations and originals, and published a novel Once a Crooked Man in 2016.
There are no immediate plans for a memorial service — instead a celebration of life service will be held in the future. Donations can be made to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation.
The actor is survived by his wife of 56 years, Katherine McCallum, his sons Paul, Valentine and Peter McCallum, his daughter Sophie McCallum and his eight grandchildren: Julia McCallum, Luca de Sanctis, Iain de Sanctis, Stella McCallum, Gavin McCallum, George McCallum, Alessandro de Sanctis and Whit McCallum.
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