By GREG RISLING, Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Television tough guy Robert Urich, an Emmy-winning actor best known for his starring roles in sleuth series such as "Vega$" and "Spenser: For Hire," died Tuesday of cancer. He was 55.
Urich died at a hospital in Thousand Oaks surrounded by family members and friends, publicist Cindy Guagenti said.
Urich announced in 1996 that he was suffering from synovial cell sarcoma, a rare cancer that attacks the body's joints. He underwent chemotherapy, radiation treatments and two operations in the mid-1990s to combat the cancer.
He earned his first television role in the 1973 comedy series "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice." He also appeared in the TV series "S.W.A.T" before being cast as Peter Campbell in "Soap."
One of Urich's most recognizable roles came as private detective Dan Tanna in "Vega$," which ran on ABC from 1978 to 1981. His knack for solving crimes led to the starring role in another ABC detective series "Spenser: For Hire," which was based on Robert Parker's novels. That series aired from 1985 to 1988.
More recently, Urich appeared as a wanderer suffering from amnesia in "The Lazarus Man," as a cruise ship captain on "Love Boat: The Next Wave" and a wisecracking talent agent on the brief NBC sitcom "Emeril."
Urich sued Castle Rock Television, which produced "Lazarus Man," for nearly $1.5 million two years ago, claiming the show was canceled by the production company because he had cancer.
In July 1996, Urich told Castle Rock that he had cancer and would have to undergo treatment, but his lawsuit said he was able to perform under the agreement both parties signed. The breach of contract suit sought the amount, about $73,000 per episode, he would have received for the second season of "Lazarus Man."
Born in Toronto, Ohio, Urich won a football scholarship at Florida State University. He later earned a master's degree in broadcast research and management from Michigan State University.
Urich briefly worked in Chicago as a radio sales agent and a television meteorologist. Burt Reynolds helped Urich land his first major role, co-starring as his younger brother in a stage production of "The Rainmaker."
"Robert Urich was an athlete, artist, a wonderful friend and he was one of those rare people who never said anything unkind about anybody," Reynolds said in a statement. "His professionalism was exemplary."
Urich and actress Heather Menzies were married in 1974. Menzies played one of the singing von Trapp children in the 1965 film "The Sound of Music."
Urich appeared in several television miniseries and cable specials. He won an Emmy in 1992 for his narration of the cable documentary "U-Boats: Terror on Our Shores." That same year, he also won a Cable ACE award as host of the National Geographic series "On Assignment."
Other television credits include: "Crossroads," "Lonesome Dove," "Vital Signs," and "It Had to Be You."
Among his film credits are starring roles in "Turk 182!" with Timothy Hutton and "Ice Pirates" with Anjelica Houston.
After his bout with cancer, Urich became highly active in cancer research, with he and his wife establishing the Heather and Robert Urich Fund for Sarcoma Research to accelerate the pace of research into sarcoma. Earlier this year, Urich donated the proceeds from his appearance on the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" to a fund at the University of Michigan, where he was treated for cancer.
"Charge forward with hope and get the best medical advice you can," Urich urged an audience during a public speaking engagement last year in Wisconsin. "Talk to your friends, neighbors, family, and together you attack it. We can't always control what happens to us, but we can always control how we react to it."
He is survived by his wife; three children, Allison, Ryan and Emily; two brothers; a sister; and his mother.
A memorial service was scheduled for Friday in Los Angeles.