Efrem Zimbalist Jr., a staple of 1960s and ’70s TV as the star of ABC dramas “77 Sunset Strip” and “The F.B.I.,” has died. He was 95.
Zimbalist died Friday at his home in Solvang, Calif., according to a statement issued by his daughter, actress Stephanie Zimbalist, and son Efrem Zimbalist III.
“We are heartbroken to announce the passing into peace of our beloved father, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., today at his Solvang, Calif. ranch. A devout Christian, he actively enjoyed his life to the last day, showering love on his extended family, playing golf, and visiting with close friends.”
Tall, handsome and always well dressed, Zimbalist starred as the smooth former OSS officer-turned private eye Stuart Bailey who ran a Los Angeles detective agency in “77 Sunset Strip.” The show, one of the first TV series hits from the Warner Bros. studio, ran on ABC from 1958-64.
He returned to the Alphabet the following year as Inspector Lewis Erskine, the methodical leader of “The F.B.I.,” which ran through 1974. His real-life counterpart, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, was a fan and supporter of the show, and a friend of Zimbalist’s. In 2009, the FBI saluted Zimbalist by making him an honorary agent, the highest honor the bureau can give to a civilian.
Zimbalist was born to a show business family in New York City in 1918. His father was concert violinist and compositor Efrem Zimbalist Sr., while his mother, Alma Gluck, was a popular singer of the day. He studied at Yale as a teenager, then worked as a page at NBC before enlisting in the Army in WWII. After the war, he studied at Yale Drama School. According to his Turner Classic Movies bio, family friend Garson Kanin gave Zimbalist his first big acting role in the Broadway production of “The Rugged Path,” starring Spencer Tracy.
Zimbalist had small roles in TV shows, worked on stage and as a producer of operas in the early 1950s before he hit big in television (he had been a tennis partner of WB chief Jack L. Warner, according to TCM). During his run on “Sunset Strip,” he made appearances on other Warner Bros. TV shows, including James Garner’s “Maverick” and “Hawaiian Eye.” He continued to log film roles, notably 1967’s “Wait Until Dark” and 1974’s “Airport 1975.”
In the 1980s, he had a recurring role on the NBC dramedy “Remington Steele,” opposite his daughter, Stephanie, and he logged guest shots on ABC’s “Hotel” and CBS’ “Murder, She Wrote.” He also co-starred in CBS’ 1980 miniseries “Scruples” and was featured in the 1991 action-movie spoof “Hot Shots.”
In the 1990s, Zimbalist became a frequent guest on shows airing on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and host his own program for TBN, “Word From the Holyland.” He also did voiceover work for numerous cartoon series, including “Spider-Man,” “The New Batman Adventures” and more recently, Cartoon Network’s “Justice League.”
Zimbalist published a memoir in 2004, “My Dinner of Herbs,” and logged his last major film role in 2008’s “The Delivery.”