Robert Stack Dies at Age 84
Actor's enduring legacy was an untouchable portrayal of Eliot Ness

By Ann Oldenburg, USA Today

He seemed untouchable.

Robert Stack, one of Hollywood's original straight-shooting tough-guy characters, was found by wife Rosemarie slumped over Wednesday in his Los Angeles home, dead of heart failure. He was 84.

Although the actor had had radiation treament for prostate cancer last October, his wife told the Associated Press on Thursday, "He was feeling so good." She added that it wasn't the tumor that had been troubling him, "it was his heart."

And it was his portrayal of almost heartlessly stern characters through his career that made him a hero to millions of fans, particularly with his Emmy-winning portrayal as federal agent Eliot Ness in the influental 1959-1963 TV crime series The Untouchables.

Gritty and gutsy, it was one of the first realistic TV shows, in which guns fired, blood flowed, women had loose morals in speak-easies and characters were ethnic. TV Guide articles asked "Is The Untouchables too violent?"; there was a wave of now common but then unheard-of Sopranos and Godfather-type backlash, complaining that the villains were Italian Mafiosos. Ness and his gang went after some of the worst people in organized crime and paved the way for cop shows to come.

"Bob inhabited that role. It was flawless. He was Eliot Ness, and we just followed his lead," says actor Paul Picerni, who portrayed federal agent Lee Hobson on the show. "The violence was quite controversial at the time. But at the height of that, I remember a priest said to me that The Untouchables is like a passion play. The bad guys are very bad, and the good guys were very good. It's a real lesson in life, unlike today where the bad guys often win."

Good-guy Stack was born into a peforming family in Los Angeles. His great-grandfather opened one of the city's first theaters, and his grandparents, uncle and mother were opera singers. But he didn't sing. For him, it was the actor's life.

He made more than 40 movies, starting with 1939's First Love and including 1956's Written on the Wind, which earned him an Oscar nomination. Later, he moved into comedy, finding a new audience with 1980s films Airplane! and Caddyshack II. Renewing his TV popularity was his job hosting Unsolved Mysteries.

When asked in a Los Angeles Times interview in 1996 about being in show business, Stack replied, "It's tough. It's like being a member of a club, this profession. And you're kind of invited in and you hope that your invitation holds out for good."

Stack and his wife wed in 1956 and have two children, Elizabeth and Charles, both of Los Angeles.

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