Roger Smith, star of the detective show, 77 Sunset Strip, died at the age of 84. His 50-year marriage to actress Ann-Margret has been one of the most romantic and endearing Hollywood love stories ever.
Roger Smith is best known as the hip detective Jeff Spencer, on the iconic show, 77 Sunset Strip. Smith, along with Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who played his sidekick Stu Bailey, the debonair pair solved crimes together for five seasons. Aired between 1958-1964, this was the first one-hour detective show ever created. In the sixth season, only Zimbalist remained. Smith told the LA Times that he was originally hired because “I don’t look like a detective.”
Revolutionizing television, producer-writer Roy Huggins created 77 Sunset Strip, and eventually created Maverick. In his book Crime Television, Douglas Snauffer wrote of the significance of the television show, 77 Sunset Strip. The groovy metrosexual secret agents drank cocktails, hung out at jazz clubs or Dean Martin’s restaurant, met glamorous women, and investigated their cases in fabulous international spots, way before Sean Connery graced the big screens with James Bond. They were polished and attractive.
“The heroes of 77 Sunset Strip were far removed from the stifled officers of Dragnet and Gangbusters.”They had a French secretary in the office and often hung out next door at Dino’s, a hip L.A. eatery. Their cases would often take them to exotic locations around the globe.”
Smith had some serious medical issues around this period. In 1960, while at home, he had lost consciousness and fell. This resulted in a serious blood clot that was originally misdiagnosed by doctors, and nearly caused his death.
After 77 Sunset Strip, Smith was on a few other shows, but what changed his life was meeting Ann-Margret. Margret was a huge Hollywood star, and some predicted she would become the future Mrs. Elvis Presley. The handsome Smith was quite a catch, but she played it cool.
“Every other woman I met was falling all over me, but this innocent, fresh-faced beauty only spoke to me when I spoke to her and the rest of the time ignored me. I was impressed.”
The Grumpy Old Men actress told People that knew early on that this was the man for her!
“I knew on the third date that we were going to be married. It just felt right.”
Margret found a guy that she could lean on. He was more than a husband. He was her rock.
“I knew he would protect me. I knew that I could depend on him. I sensed it completely.”
They married in Las Vegas on May 8, 1967. They had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, which is quite a milestone in Hollywood. She explained that it was because they could laugh.
“We laugh at ourselves. We get into weird situations. If you can’t laugh at yourself you are in trouble. We laugh before everyone else does”
Roger Smith became more than a husband, soon after their marriage, he also became her manager. She had a sex kitten image, and she wanted more serious acting work. She was not satisfied with her manager, who was not making it happen. Soon, with Roger by her side, Margret’s career blossomed. Soon, the actress was in the acclaimed movie, Carnal Knowledge, opposite Jack Nicholson. The couple was rewarded with her Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress.
Although he stopped acting, Smith found that by helping her build up her career, he became happier and found fulfillment.
“It’s corny but true: By doing what she wanted, I liked myself much better. Being with her was more important than all my childhood dreams about being a famous actor.”
The couple certainly were there for each other, both in sickness and in health. Then, in 1965, he was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis. This disorder causes the body’s nerves to not transmit signals to the muscles, which results in severe muscle weakness. Throughout his life, Smith dealt with serious issue. Throughout her career, Margret would balance work, along with caring and supporting Smith. He was not the only one with serious medical issues.
In 1972, while performing at the Sahara Hotel in Lake Tahoe, Margret was seriously injured and knocked unconscious when she fell off a 22-foot scaffolding just as the show was starting. This was a rare time that Roger was not there to watch her perform. When he heard what had happened, Smith, unsuccessfully tried to get on a commercial flight. The actor, who was also a pilot, tried to rent a plane, but that was not possible, so instead, he stole a plane and flew it to get to her and bring he back to Los Angeles for emergency medical treatment.
This fall resulted in a broken arm, as well as plastic surgery to her face. While she was recovering, the redhead was very concerned about her future and her career. However, soon, she was starring in The Who’s film version of Tommy, where she received another Academy Award nomination.
Early in their marriage, the couple lived with Smith’s three children, Tracy, Jordan, and Dallas, from his previous marriage to Australian actress Virginia Shaw. Although Margret had stated that she tried to have a baby, they were unable to have children of their own.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Smith died at Sherman Oaks Hospital on Sunday. No cause of death was given. A private funeral is expected.
Are you a fan of 77 Sunset Strip? Do you have any memories of Roger Smith that you care to share?
[Featured Image by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images]