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Sunset Strip Actor, Roger Smith, Dies In Los Angeles At 84

Smith Is Better Known For Playing Jeff Spencer On 77 Sunset Strip.

Actor Roger Smith has died at age 84. Smith was known for his role as the ‘suave detective,’ Jeff Spencer on the tv show ’77 Sunset Strip’. The sad news was announced by Jack Gilardi, agent for Smith’s widow, Ann-Margret. Gilardi. Who confirmed that the actor died at a Los Angeles hospital Sunday, after battling a terminal illness.

The exact cause of death was not released. Smith is survived by his wife, actress Ann-Margret, with whom he lived in Beverly Hills, California, and his children from his first marriage, Tracey, Dallas and Jordan Smith.

May he rest in peace.

Roger Smith, a natural in the industry

Roger LaVerne Smith was born in 1932, in South Gate, near Los Angeles. He had an early contact with art as his parents enrolled him in a professional school in Hollywood when he was just 6, where he learned singing and dancing.

He soon showed a talent for both sports and acting, when the family moved to Nogales, Arizona. He excelled in the high school acting club and football team when he was just 12. Smith even got a football scholarship and attended the University of Arizona.

The actor also served over two years in the Navy Reserve, and he sang in Hawaii at social events. James Cagney, who was there making a film, suggested that Smith might try for a film career. When Smith’s Navy service ended, he signed a contract with Columbia Pictures.

He later appeared with Cagney in Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), the biographical film about the horror star Lon Chaney, and with Rosalind Russell in the comedy Auntie Mame (1958).

Stardom and health issues.

Smith launched to stardom when he got his role as the ‘suave detective’ in 77 Sunset Strip. The show was created by producer-writer Roy Huggins, who also created Maverick. Creating a host of spinoffs and knockoffs, including Hawaiian Eye, Surfside 6 and Bourbon Street Beat.

Smith told the Los Angeles Times that the series aimed to show that private investigators were well-trained, serious men. Different from the movie and TV stereotype with “dangling cigarettes and large chips on their shoulders.” The show aired between 1958-1964, and it was the first one-hour detective show ever created. Smith told the LA Times that he was originally hired because “I don’t look like a detective.”

In 1960, while at home, he had lost consciousness and fell. This resulted in a serious blood clot that was originally misdiagnosed by doctors, and nearly caused his death.The actor rejoined the show after recovering and continued in his role until 1963. When the entire cast except Zimbalist was dropped in an attempt to revitalize it. The show lingered for only one more year.

In 1965, he was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis. This disorder causes the body’s nerves to not transmit signals to the muscles, which results in severe muscle weakness. Throughout his life, Smith dealt with serious health issues. Meanwhile, the actor got the title role in the NBC series  Mister Roberts, based on the 1955 comedy-drama about Navy life. It lasted from 1965-66.

When he first gained fame, he had been married to a glamorous Australian actress, Victoria Shaw, with whom he had three children. They divorced in 1965.

Via Getty

His marriage to Ann-Margret

Around the 60’s, Smith met and started dating Ann-Margret, the dynamic singer, dancer, and actress of Bye Bye Birdie, Viva Las Vegas, and other films. They got married quietly in Las Vegas in 1967. Smith later quit his acting gigs and started managing her career.

“Now in Roger, I’ve found all the men I needed rolled into one, a father, a friend, a lover, a manager, a businessman,” she told writer Rex Reed in 1972. “It’s perfect for me. I couldn’t exist without a strong man.”

Ann- Margret had a sex kitten image, and she wanted a more serious acting work. She was not satisfied with her manager, so she fired him. Soon, with Roger by her side, Margret’s career blossomed.The actress was in the acclaimed movie, Carnal Knowledge, opposite Jack Nicholson. The couple was rewarded with her Academy Award nomination for the best-supporting actress.

Although he stopped acting, Smith found that by helping her build up her career, he became happier and found fulfillment. “It’s corny but true: By doing what she wanted, I liked myself much better. Being with her was more important than all my childhood dreams about being a famous actor.”

The couple just celebrated their 50th anniversary, on May 8, which is quite a milestone in Hollywood. Ann-Margret explained their secret to a long-lasting relationship. “We laugh at ourselves. We get into weird situations. If you can’t laugh at yourself you are in trouble. We laugh before everyone else does”

Via Getty

Source: NY Times

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