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'Starsky and Hutch' actor David Soul dies aged 80

January 5, 2024

David Soul's roughly five-decade career as a singer and actor led to him being best known as the 1970s detective Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson. It was a fairly short-running show by US standards, but it traveled far.

Black-and-white photo of David Soul in 2004
In 2004, Soul obtained British citizenship. He died in London on Thursday. Image: Yui Mok/empics/picture allianc

Actor and singer David Soul, who gained international celebrity as the more cerebral half of the renegade California detective partners "Starsky and Hutch" in the hit 1970s television series, has died at the age of 80. 

"David Soul — beloved husband, father, grandfather and brother — died yesterday after a valiant battle for life in the loving company of his family," his wife, Helen Snell, said on Friday.

"He shared many extraordinary gifts in the world as actor, singer, storyteller, creative artist and dear friend," she said. "His smile, laughter and passion for life will be remembered by the many whose lives he touched." 

'Starsky and Hutch,' the California cops who went global

A singer early in his career in the 1960s, Soul started out in theater and musical roles, before making his television show in the late 1960s and signing a contract with Columbia Pictures in 1967. 

He played various supporting roles, including one episode as the most prominent guest character on "Star Trek," where he had a part as the leader of a seemingly idyllic alien civilization called the Vaalians who had named themselves after the god they worshipped, Vaal, which it transpired was in fact a machine.

But Soul's breakthrough came with his role as Kenneth "Hutch" Hutchinson, one half of the unorthodox crime-fighting duo of Starsky, played by Paul Michael Glaser, and Hutch, who cruised California in Starsky's beloved bright red Ford Gran Torino with an outrageously gaudy white stripe down its flanks.

They were often assisted by their streetwise informant known as Huggy Bear, played by Antonio Fargas. The show was produced by Aaron Spelling, the man behind an array of long-running hit series on US TV.

Deutschland Dresden 2022 | Ford Torino von Starsky & Hutch bei US Car Convention
Some might even contend that Starsky and Hutch's wheels were the true star of a show that leaned heavily into car chase scenes, stunts and other high-octane anticsImage: Robert Michael/dpa/picture alliance

The detective pair was inspired in part by a real-life New York detective duo, Lou Telano and John Sepe, whose unconventional but effective undercover police work had gained them notoriety. Both the real and imagined cops were known for their wide array of disguises and covers, some of them bordering on the implausible.

The series ran for four years and 92 episodes, following a longer pilot movie — not a particularly lengthy run by US TV standards. However, it was among the earlier US TV series to travel far and wide, gaining prime time slots in Europe and beyond.

It was broadcast, and very often rebroadcast for years after, on major channels like BBC1 in the UK, Rai Due in Italy, TF1 in France and ZDF in Germany.

The series would also go on to spawn a more comedic 2004 feature film starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, a 2003 video game and several novelizations of episodes. 

Singer, fundraiser for dogs, British citizen in later life

Soul, the son of a South Dakota university political science and history teacher, also made guest appearances in a number of TV staples down the years, including "Murder, She Wrote," "I Dream of Jeannie," "Flipper," and "Poirot."

He even made a cameo appearance as himself in the UK comedy series "Little Britain," demonstrating the show's continued reach in the UK almost 30 years on.

He had one US No. 1 hit single, "Don't Give Up on Us," which also topped the charts in Canada and the UK, and several of his other songs, like "Silver Lady," sold well in the UK. 

He was also known for his social activism, particularly on animal welfare issues.

He was married five times and had five sons and a daughter. He married Helen Snell in June 2010, having met her in a stage production in 2002 in the UK.

In 2004, Soul obtained British citizenship. He died in London on Thursday. 

msh/sms (AFP, AP)