I’d been going back and forth about writing about Leonard Cohen last night, because I was tired and am still heart-sore. And then I woke up this morning, and Robert Vaughn had died. Thanks, 2016; we all needed that.
Robert Vaughn was the last of the Magnificent Seven. He was Napoleon Solo. He played everyone from Hitler to Truman. And mostly, I think, what people will remember is that deep, mellifluous voice—a bad week for voices, clearly—that oozed charm and, when he chose, menace.
I’ll be honest; I thought for some reason that he’d died a few years ago and was taken aback at the tributes that began to pop up on Facebook. (Which is, as for so many of us, how I tend to find out that people have died.) There aren’t as many of them as there are for Cohen, both because he was better known and because this is a week of mourning fatigue, I think, and the sorrow we’d have for someone who lived in American pop culture for decades was already used up.
But he will remain in memory, I think, even if people don’t quite notice for a while that he’s gone. He was so good at putting in just that hint of suave villainy that it’s perhaps ironic that he’s best known for a couple of heroes. I think I will remember him best for the episode of Law & Order where he’s basically throwing a mentally ill grandson under the bus to keep from revealing his own mental illness. The character is so accustomed to the power that he wields that it’s more important than anything, which may be another symptom of his illness.
Don’t get me wrong; I have seen some of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but not much and relatively recently. I suspect that’s more how he’s stuck in my mother’s mind, though she is in turn slightly too old for me to assume she’d gotten into it; she was twenty when it aired. But I am left now with a slight regret that he never appeared on Leverage, a show I think he would have been well suited for, and I cannot fathom why he never made a guest appearance on NCIS, all things considered.
I know, I’m focusing more on the TV stuff. But I’ve never seen The Young Philadelphians, the film for which he picked up his Oscar nomination. He lost to Hugh Griffiths, the Welsh guy who played an Arab sheik in Ben-Hur. I do find it interesting that he was actually approached by the California Democratic Party to run against Ronald Reagan for governor, before even Gregory Peck. He turned down the opportunity. One wonders how history might have been different had he run and won.