Mike Connors: ‘Mannix’ TV Star Dies Of Leukemia, Aged 91

Chris PizzelloAP Images

Mike Connors famously known for playing detective Joe Mannix on Mannix has died. Connors died Thursday afternoon at a Los Angeles hospital. He had been diagnosed with leukemia seven days ago. Connors was 91. His death comes a day after another 60s/70s TV star—Mary Tyler Moore passed.

The Mannix star died surrounded by his family including his wife Mary Lou. The couple had been married for 68 years and met while they were studying at UCLA. His son-in-law who spoke on behalf of the family described Mike Connors as a “wonderful father, a wonderful husband, a wonderful father-in-law and a wonderful friend…who was always there for anyone in need.”

Mike Connors played the good-guy private eye who got “emotionally involved” with his cases. According to Variety, the CBS Saturday night action series ran for eight seasons from September 1967 to April 1975. The show made the former basketball player for legendary coach John Wooden at UCLA one of the highest-paid TV actors in the early 1970s. Connors was earning over $40,000 per episode. In 2011, the TV star would sue Paramount and CBS, accusing them of not paying him millions of dollars in royalties.

Connors was already a veteran actor when he landed the private eye role of Joe Mannix in 1967. He would go on to record over 194 episodes despite the network’s grueling shooting schedule changing almost every year. The series took a while to catch on with viewers. Mannix did not make it into primetime Top 25 until the 1970-71 season. The action series would later surge into the top seven the following year, according to Deadline. In a 2014 interview, Connors gave his thoughts on why he felt the long-running CBS series was a success.

“The show itself started a whole new era of detective shows, because this wasn’t the usual cynical private eye a la Humphrey Bogart. It was more a show about an all-around human being. The character of Joe Mannix could be taken advantage of by a pretty face, he could shed a tear on an emotional level, and he was very close to his father and his family, so he was more of a normal personality with normal behavior.”

The first season of the hit series saw Joe Mannix employed at Intertect, a Los Angeles detective agency. But the tough investigator soon showed he was not the type to do things by the book. At the beginning of the second season, Joe Mannix had left the agency and working out of his home. Many viewers loved the series run because of the impressive cars the detective always drove. The cars included a 1969 Dodge Dart, 1970 Plymouth Barracuda full options convertible and 1974 Dodge Challenger.

Joe Mannix was always over his head and getting bludgeoned by the bad guys. At one count, he was said to have been knocked out 55 times in the series run. Another statistic revealed that he had been shot 17 times. Critics had slammed the TV show for its excessive violence. Connors would later go on to say that the series was nothing compared to what is being shown on present-day TV.

“We did have car chases and fights. But when you compare them to shows that are on now, we were very, very low-keyed.”

The actor who was born originally as Krekor Ohanian in Fresno, California received four Emmy nominations from 1970-1973 and six Golden Globe nods from 1970-1975 for Mannix. He only won one Golden Globe trophy in 1970, picking up the coveted prize from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The only Emmy the show ever won was given to Gail Fisher who played Peggy Fair, Joe Mannix’s unruffled secretary. Fisher was one of the first African-American actresses to have a reoccurring role in a TV series.

The Armenian-American actor in a career that spanned close to 50 years would go on to make numerous appearances on shows like, The Millionaire, The Fall Guy, Burke’s Law, Texas Ranger, Two and a Half Men, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, The Love Boat, War and Remembrance, Today’s FBI, and Walker, Murder She Wrote.

[Featured Image by Chris Pizzello/AP Images]