The actor Chad Everett—best remembered as the star of the ‘70s hospital drama Medical Center and a memorable scene in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive—has died at 76, after a long battle with lung cancer. As one of the last contract players during the dying days of the studio system, Everett (né Raymond Lee Cramton) spent eight years doing journeyman work on TV, with guest shots on such series as Maverick, Lawman, Bronco, 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Combat, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Ironside, as well as tiny roles in such movies as The Chapman Report, Rome Adventure, and the notorious “what if the Commies took over?” Cold War short Red Nightmare. He also landed a regular supporting role on the 1963 series The Dakotas, which only lasted for one season.
With his rugged build and square-jawed good looks, Everett was mostly used as action fodder in Westerns and cop dramas, but his big break came when he was cast as Dr. Joe Gannon, the passionately committed surgeon on Medical Center. The show ran for seven seasons, from 1969 to 1976. Everett also made the news in 1973 when he appeared on The Dick Cavett Show and included his wife, Shelby—along with his dog and his horse—in a list of his most prized personal “property,” inspiring fellow guest Lily Tomlin to walk off the show in protest. He and Shelby were together for 45 years, until her death last year (which is presumably more than his dog or his horse could say).
After Medical Center ended, Everett had prominent roles in the 1979 miniseries Centennial and The French Atlantic Affair, and starred in the series Hagen (1980), The Rousters (1984), McKenna (1994-95), and Manhattan, AZ (2000). None of them lasted for more than a few episodes, while a part spoofing his clean-cut persona in Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) failed to do for him what the original had done for Leslie Nielsen. Everett kept his hand in with TV guest appearances, and he landed the role of the rich old guy whose stolen money sets the plot in motion in Gus Van Sant’s still not adequately explained 1998 remake of Psycho. He was also selected by the family of John Wayne to provide the Duke’s voice for an attraction at the Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park.
Everett's most surprising and remarkable late-career performance came in a pilot for another unsuccessful TV series, but one that was expanded by its creator and turned into a feature film: Mulholland Drive. Still strikingly handsome, he played the movie star in the audition scene with Naomi Watts that confirmed that she, too, was a star. After that, he had a part in the infamous movie Tiptoes (2003) and played Ron Burgundy’s mentor Jess Moondragon in the DVD-released “spiritual sequel” to Anchorman. On TV, he had noteworthy guest roles on Cold Case, Without A Trace, and Supernatural (where he played an artificially-aged version of Jensen Ackles’ character) and had recurring roles in the short-lived Undercovers (2010-2011) and a regular one on the Cinemax series Chemistry. His last performance was a guest role on Castle, broadcast last February.