Gavin MacLeod has died. Best known for his TV roles—first, as endearingly sadsack TV writer Murray Slaughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and later as stalwart Love Boat skipper Captain Stubing—MacLeod was a fixture of American television for the better part of two decades, and a veteran actor besides. Per TMZ, he died early this morning, of undisclosed causes. MacLeod was 90.
After an early stint trying to make headway in the New York acting scene of the mid-1950s (and ditching his birth name, Allan See, for his more dynamic stage name), MacLeod got his start on TV in 1957, beginning a long series of day-part roles playing heavies on shows like Lock Up, Manhunt, and Peter Gunn. (This is also the first period where he worked alongside Mary Tyler Moore, appearing in a single episode of The Dick Van Dyke show in 1961.) MacLeod scored his first regular gig in 1962, acting opposite Ernest Borgnine on McHale’s Navy, but after two seasons, he hit the road again, appearing with Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbeles, popping up frequently to harass the Hogan’s Heroes crew, and staring down Jack Lord as smug crimelord “Big Chicken” in a pair of episodes of Hawaii 5-0.
But MacLeod’s career took a radical turn—and rise—in 1970, when he was cast as news writer Murray Slaughter in Moore’s new TV vehicle. The part of Murray allowed MacLeod to explore his comic range in full, whether needling Ted Knight’s Ted Baxter for his frequent idiocies, or moping through his own various woes. As Murray, MacLeod was the sharpest guy in the room and the most relatable—because who wouldn’t end up with a hopelessly unworkable crush on Mary Richards, despite already being married with kids?
MacLeod stuck with MTM through all 7 seasons, becoming the only cast member, besides Moore herself, to appear in every episode of the Peabody-winning show. By the time the WJM crew had shuffled out the door with a heartfelt bout of “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary,” though MacLeod was already well on his way to lining up his next gig: The Love Boat, soon to become one of the staples of ABC’s Saturday schedule for the better part of the next 10 years.
As Your Captain, Merrill Stubing, MacLeod oversaw nine seasons of The Love Boat, and romantic drama encompassing pretty much every well-known actor of a generation. Although the character often took a backseat to the anthology-based nature of the series, MacLeod was its ever-present smiling face, still capable of busting out a little Murray Slaughter wit when called for—but often placed in the role of a friendly father figure, in MacLeod’s own words. (He also noted, in a 2003 interview with the Television Academy Foundation, that nine seasons of steady paychecks and world-class travel made keeping the smile on his face pretty simple.) The series was beloved enough to generate multiple sequel movies and even a Charlie’s Angels crossover, and it enshrined MacLeod firmly in the pantheon on minor television deities of the 1970s and ’80s.
After Love Boat ended, MacLeod continued to work steadily—although he also got heavily into his faith, converting to Christianity in the ’80s, and hosting a Christian show about marriage, Back On Course, with wife Patti Kendig for many years. In later years, he would pop up with some frequency on TV comedies (and also, strangely, on one episode of Oz), lending his talents to series like The King Of Queens and That ’70s Show. He was nominated for the Golden Globe 5 times across his long career, and remembered fondly by god knows how many kids raised on steady diets of TV Land and Nick-at-Nite.