Actor who was best known to Irish TV audiences as Blake Carrington in 'Dynasty'
Published 11/04/2010 | 05:00
John Forsythe, who has died aged 92, became the world's highest-paid television actor. Best known to Irish audiences as the conniving silver-haired patriarch Blake Carrington in the 1980s' super-soap Dynasty, he was also heard (but never seen) as the mysterious millionaire private investigator Charles Townsend in Charlie's Angels.
Forsythe specialised in smooth, wealthy, pensionable charmers invariably surrounded by adoring beautiful young women; in Dynasty, he was married to a much younger second wife, Krystle, played by Linda Evans, while Charlie's Angels featured an impossibly pulchritudinous trio led, initially, by Farrah Fawcett. To the surprise of some viewers, during his time on Dynasty the real Forsythe celebrated his 45th wedding anniversary.
In the saga of murder, deceit, adultery and high finance, Forsythe as the dignified Carrington often clashed with his flashy, vengeful former wife, Alexis Colby, played to the hilt by Joan Collins.
He was born John Lincoln Freund on January 29, 1918, in New Jersey, the eldest of three children, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where his father worked on Wall Street. As a boy, he wanted to be a sportswriter. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina but in 1936, aged 18, took an announcer's job at a baseball stadium.
Forsythe's theatrical debut was in 1939 with a children's touring company, for whom he also drove a truck and served as assistant stage manager.
His first Broadway appearance was in September 1942, and he soon came to the attention of Warner Brothers, which took him on as a bit player in films; he landed his first starring role in Destination Tokyo (1943) before serving briefly in the US Air Corps towards the end of the Second World War. In the late 1940s Forsythe helped to found and worked at the Actors' Studio with other promising young actors including Marlon Brando, Tab Hunter and Joan Collins, then a 14-year-old ingenue. After successful Broadway stints in Mister Roberts (1950) and The Teahouse of the August Moon (1953) which established him as a comedy star, Alfred Hitchcock invited Forsythe to Hollywood to star in The Trouble With Harry (1955) alongside a young Shirley MacLaine. The film flopped, and although he was voted one of the top 10 new stars by American film distributors in 1956, Forsythe turned to television.
Success came in 1957 with the situation comedy Bachelor Father, playing Bentley Gregg, a hapless playboy lawyer who became the surrogate father to his teenage niece on the death of her parents; the show was an instant hit and ran for five years. The 1960s, however, proved a lean time for Forsythe, with several television projects being dropped after failing to impress the critics. In 1976 Forsythe had the biggest break of his career when the producer Aaron Spelling cast him as Charles Townsend in the crime drama Charlie's Angels. Because the character was never seen on screen, Forsythe was seldom needed on the set and simply recorded his voice on tape.
The programme exported to over 90 countries, propelling Forsythe to still greater fame and fortune as the highest-paid actor on television; the show even survived the departure in 1977 of its biggest visible star, Farrah Fawcett.
Forsythe prospered to the extent that he was able to invest a small fortune in his hobby of racing thoroughbred horses, but his health faltered in the late 1970s and in 1979 he underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery. In 1981, with the demise of Charlie's Angels, Forsythe landed the most important role of his career, that of Blake Carrington in Dynasty; the part had been offered to George Peppard, who, having taken it, immediately fell out with the writers. The show was another huge hit for Forsythe, who found himself, in his mid-60s, one of the most sought-after sex symbols in Hollywood.
Forsythe was the only actor to appear in all 220 episodes. Between 1985 and 1987, he also played Carrington in the spin-off series The Colbys.
He visited Ireland a number of times, appearing at the Budweiser Irish Derby.
Forsythe was married three times: in 1939, to the actress Parker MacCormick. They divorced in 1942. The following year he married actress Julie Warren; she died in 1994. In 2002, he married Nicole Carter, a businesswoman 22 years his junior. She survives him with a son and two daughters from his previous marriages.