Robert Urich was born in the tiny steel town of Toronto, Ohio, and he never forgot the valuable lessons he learned there. “I think my longevity has a lot to do with where I come from,” he said, via the Los Angeles Times after finding fame on TV series like Vega$ and Spenser: For Hire, “and how I was raised: to work hard and respect other folks.”

Now, nearly two decades after Robert’s untimely death at 55, his son, Dr. Ryan Urich, recalls his father’s tireless dedication. “The guy was a consummate professional,” Ryan tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “He just wanted to keep going — acting was his passion. For him, it wasn’t work.”

Robert Urich Headshot

Robert left Ohio after he won a football scholarship to Florida State University. An injury ended his gridiron career, but Robert segued into modeling and acting and got his big break when a fellow FSU alum, Burt Reynolds, cast him in a 1972 stage production. “Robert was an athlete, artist, a wonderful friend, and he was one of those rare people who never said anything unkind about anybody,” Burt also said, via the L.A. Times. “His professionalism was exemplary.”

His can-do attitude made him popular with producers, and he was cast in a variety of projects, from sitcoms (Soap) to action shows (S.W.A.T.) to Westerns (Lonesome Dove). Some jobs lasted longer than others, but Robert appreciated them all the same. “He wasn’t the kind of guy to really focus on the negative stuff,” says Ryan. “If one didn’t work, then hey, it was still a show, it still got air-time, he still got paid and he still got to work with cool people. It was just one more step to the next one.”

Robert proved equally resilient after his first marriage, to actress Barbara Rucker, ended in divorce after six years in 1974. A year later, he married Heather Menzies, who played Louisa in The Sound of Music, and they remained wed until his death. “Part of why it worked is they just were not Hollywood types,” says Ryan. “They didn’t schmooze, and they really understood each other. Their idea of a perfect day was anything, as long as they were together.”

After Heather suffered multiple miscarriages, the couple adopted three children together: Ryan, 40, and his sisters Emily, 39, and Allison, 21. “He was really mellow and very communicative,” Ryan says of his dad. “There were a couple of times when I got in trouble at school, and he would lay down on the floor with his knees bent and be like, ‘So what’s really going on?’ He would just try to figure things out and get to know me.”

Robert Urich and Heather Menzies

Robert was an equally sensitive father with his daughters. “He was always proud of us kids — every little baby step we took,” Ryan says. “When he died, it was two days before my kid sister’s fourth birthday, but he would play with her.”

His death came after a valiant, six-year-long battle with cancer. “He was diagnosed three times,” says Ryan. “The first time, it was tough — he was so shaken. He had surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. He lost all his hair, then he came back and said, ‘You know what, I can still work like this.’ He ended up doing a show for National Geographic called On Assignment, and he would go to crazy places.”

When Ryan was about to finish high school, his dad’s cancer recurred. “I was driving him to the hospital to get chemo, and I was trying not to hit a single bump in the road because he was so sensitive to it,” says Ryan. “I felt so bad for him.”

Robert succumbed to his third bout with cancer in 2002, when Ryan was studying biology in college. “I went into medicine because I couldn’t help my dad medically, but maybe I can help someone else,” says Ryan. “And my sister Emily is an ER nurse.” Together they run the cancer charity The Urich Foundation (their mom died of the disease in 2017). Shares Ryan of his dad, “He lives on through his children.”

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