Mike Connors, the lantern-jawed star of CBS’s long-running detective show Mannix, has died.
Born Kreker J. Ohanian, Connors initially took “Touch Connors” as his stage name; the billing appears on a number of his early roles, where his expressive face and hangdog looks made him an ideal complement to various TV Westerns. (Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, and Have Gun—Will Travel are just a few of the small-screen oaters dotting his resume from that time.) He also fell in for a period with Roger Corman, lending his talents to such B-movie quickies as Swamp Women and The Day The World Ended.
As the ’50s gave way to the ‘60s, Connors’ star steadily rose. In 1959 (now going by the name Michael), he scored his first leading role, taking on the part of an unnamed undercover detective for CBS’s single-season police drama Tightrope. But it wasn’t until 1967 that Connors found his true breakout part, slipping into the flat feet and weathered knuckles of hard-boiled detective Joe Mannix.
Running for seven years, Mannix was a throwback to the good old days of the classic detective show, where cases were solved with quick wits and quicker punches, as opposed to gimmicks or newfangled gadgets. (The show’s first season emphasized the difference by employing its title character at a high-tech firm, and then contrasting his methods with his pencil pushing employers; the second saw him break out on his own.) None of it would have worked without Connors, casting a wry, amused smile over the intimidating efforts of what seemed like Hollywood’s entire stable of menacing, tough-faced character actors. After the series ended, in 1975, he would express his affection for the character, employing a very Raymond Chandler-esque turn of phrase: “Mannix is still working…there was a decency and a dignity about the man…”
After the series ended, Connors continued to work steadily for the next 25 years, often on detective shows. (Credits include Murder She Wrote, The Commish, and Diagnosis: Murder, where he reprised the role of Joe Mannix for a single episode.) All told, he ended his career with more than a hundred credits to his name, and worked steadily in the business for a total of 65 years.
Variety reports that Connors was 91 when he died. Leukemia was the cause of death.