John Forsythe, the handsome, smooth-voiced actor who made his fortune as the scheming oil tycoon in TV’s “Dynasty” and the voice of the leader of “Charlie’s Angels” has died after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 92.
Forsythe died late Thursday at his home in Santa Ynez from complications of pneumonia, publicist Harlan Boll said today.
“He died as he lived his life, with dignity and grace,” daughter Brooke Forsythe said.
Despite his distinguished work in theater and films, Forsythe’s greatest fame came from his role as Blake Carrington in the 1981-89 primetime soap opera “Dynasty.” Forsythe lent dignity to the tale of murder, deceit, adultery and high finance, which often brought Carrington into conflict with his flashy, vengeful former wife, Alexis Colby, played to the hilt by Joan Collins.
Forsythe was an important part of another hit series without being seen. From 1976 to 1981 he played the voice of Charlie, the boss who delivered assignments to his beautiful detectives via telephone in “Charlie’s Angels.”
Forsythe evidenced little of the ego drive that motivates many actors. He viewed himself with a self-effacing humor, considering himself “a vastly usable, not wildly talented actor.”
In a 1981 interview by The Associated Press, he also said: “I figure there are a few actors like Marlon Brando, George C. Scott and Laurence Olivier who have been touched by the hand of God. I’m in the next bunch.”
With his full head of silver hair, tanned face and soothing voice, Forsythe as Carrington attracted the ardor of millions of female television viewers. “It’s rather amusing at my advanced age (mid-60s) to become a sex symbol,” he cracked.
While he had small roles in a couple of films in the early 1940s, Forsythe’s first successes were mainly on the stage. While serving during World War II, he was cast in Moss Hart’s Air Force show “Winged Victory,” along with many other future stars.
After the war, Forsythe became a founding member of the Actors Studio, recalling it as “a wildly stimulating place for a guy like me who was a babe in the woods. I never suspected there was that kind of artistry and psychological approach to acting.”
Declining a return to Warner Bros., Forsythe began appearing in television plays as early as 1947, and he continued his Broadway career. A role in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” led to the awesome task of replacing Henry Fonda in “Mister Roberts.”
He was next able to create a role of his own, as the naive Army officer in occupied Okinawa in “Teahouse of the August Moon.” The play was a huge success, winning the Pulitzer Prize. “It gave me a sense of worth as an actor,” Forsythe remarked.
The call to Hollywood was irresistible, and Forsythe came west to star in such films as “The Captive City,” “The Glass Web” and “Escape from Fort Bravo.” His best break came in 1955 when he starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s one attempt at whimsy, “The Trouble with Harry,” about a corpse that kept turning up in a New England town.
But Forsythe’s film roles were limited because he was already busy in television. The comedy “Bachelor Father,” in which he played a Hollywood lawyer who cared for his teenage niece, lasted from 1957 to 1962, appearing successively on CBS, NBC and ABC.
His later films included “Madame X” (opposite Lana Turner) and “In Cold Blood,” Hitchcock’s spy thriller “Topaz,” “The Happy Ending” and “Goodbye and Amen.”
“And Justice for All” (1979) marked a departure for the actor. Director Norman Jewison cast him as a judge with a kinky sex life.
“He wanted to create suspense on whether the judge was guilty of such dark deeds,” Forsythe said.
He credited the role for causing him to be considered as the unscrupulous Carrington in “Dynasty.”
“The producers didn’t know what the hell they wanted,” Forsythe recalled. “They talked to me in terms of J.R. in ’Dallas.’ I said, ’Look, fellas, I don’t want to play J.R. Part of my strength as an actor comes from what I’ve learned all these years: when you play a villain, you try to get the light touches; when you play a hero, you try to get in some of the warts.”
He was born John Lincoln Freund on Jan. 29, 1918, in Penn’s Grove, N.J.
He won an athletic scholarship to the University of North Carolina, had a stint as public address announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers, then launched his struggle to become an actor against the wishes of his father. Having had his name mispronounced all his life, he adopted the name of Forsythe, which came from his mother’s family.
He toured the country in a children’s theater troupe with his first wife, actress Parker McCormick, and began appearing in radio soap operas and Broadway plays.
His first marriage ended after the birth of a son, Dall. During the run of “Winged Victory,” Forsythe married another actress, Julie Warren. They had two daughters, Page in 1950, Brooke in 1954.
When not acting, Forsythe maintained a strong interest in politics and sports, often playing in charity tennis tournaments. A devoted environmentalist, he also narrated a long-running outdoor series, “The World of Survival.”
In lieu of flowers, Forsythe’s family asked that donations be made to the American Cancer Society.
The family said there will be no public service.