The identity of the actor supplying the voice of Charlie on Charlie's Angels was supposed to be a secret. "Well, it proved as big a secret as Pearl Harbor," John Forsythe once recalled.
Forsythe, the rare star who was recognizable to audiences whether he was seen presiding over Dynasty catfights or unseen doling out assignments on Charlie's Angels, died Thursday of pneumonia amid a yearlong battle with cancer, his family said today. He was 92.
Dynasty foe Joan Collins remembered Forsythe as "one of the last true gentlemen of the acting profession." Daughter Brooke Forsythe said her father "died as he lived his life, with dignity and grace."
Forsythe's career endured for more than 50 years and more than one hair color—though famous to latter generations for his head of distinguished silver, the actor could've competed strand for strand with Don Draper in films such as Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry and on his first prime-time hit, the comedy Bachelor Father.
Though not well-known today, Bachelor Father made such an impression back in the day that Forsythe considered it a coup to have been cast against sitcom-type in Dynasty. As it was, he was a last-minute sub for George Peppard (Breakfast at Tiffany's, The A-Team), who was originally cast as the steely but principled oil magnate Blake Carrington.
"Audiences don't want to see you playing anything different," Forsythe told the Los Angeles Times in 1985. "I beat the system with this show."
Along with Dallas, Dynasty was the premiere 1980s prime-time soap—all glitz, glamour and shoulder pads. Forsythe was its center and sexagenarian sex symbol; Linda Evans and Collins were its warring factions as Carrington's good wife, Krystle, and bad ex-wife, Alexis, respectively. The series ran from 1981 to 1989; Forsythe's work earned him three Emmy nominations and two Golden Globes.
From 1976 to 1981, Forsythe phoned it in, in a good way, as Charlie Townsend, the no-profile, pool-lounging investigative agency owner on Charlie's Angels. Producer Aaron Spelling, with whom Forsythe would also work on Dynasty, asked his friend to handle the voice-only role in the pilot.
"I read it, and was not overly impressed," Forsythe told the Associated Press in 1977. "But I agreed to do it. They paid me a modest fee, and I thought it would be shelved and pushed into oblivion."
Forsythe ended up not appearing in more than 100 episodes. He also lent his voice to Drew Barrymore's two Charlie's Angels big-screen adventures.
Forsythe retired after Dynasty. Briefly. He went on to appear in Dynasty reunion shows and star in the 1992-1993 political sitcom The Powers That Be, featuring a preteen Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In the end, Forsythe, who also appeared in In Cold Blood, …And Justice for All and Topaz, yet another film for Hitchcock, made it all look easy. Perhaps too easy.
"I don't think I'm a soaring Marlon Brando, Laurence Olivier, George C. Scott," Forsythe told Parade in 1984, "but I do think I'm a better actor than I've been given credit for."
(Originally published April 2, 2010, at 12:10 p.m. PT)
John Forsythe is the latest sad addition to our 2010 Fallen Stars gallery.