Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
Played lead actor Inspector Lewis Erskine
Born: 30 November 1918 in New York, New York, USA
Died: 2 May 2014 in Solvang, California, USA
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was not merely an established television actor when he was cast for the lead in The FBI. The son of renowned violinist Efrem Zimbalist Sr. (1889-1985) and opera singer Alma Gluck (1884-1938), Mr. Zimbalist had graduated from Yale University’s School of Drama and had worked as a page at NBC. After serving in the armed forces during World War II, Mr. Zimbalist began his acting career on the stage, with help from family friend Garson Kanin.
Mr. Zimbalist made his film debut in 1949, but put his career on hold the following year when his first wife, Emily McNair, died of cancer. Left with two small children, Mr. Zimbalist served as assistant director/researcher at the Curtis School of Music in Philadelphia for his father, and buried himself with studies and music composition. He resumed his acting career in 1954, and by 1957 was acting both in films (Band of Angels) and on TV (as Dandy Jim Buckley in Maverick). He also made a pilot for Warner Brothers that year, in which he played a private investigator, Stuart Bailey. The result: 77 Sunset Strip, a detective series that ran on ABC from 1958 to 1964. That series would make him a household name.
By the time 77 Sunset Strip had ended its run in November 1964, Mr. Zimbalist was doing guest spots on different shows, because the series itself had stopped producing new episodes; it relied on reruns during 1964. He was cast as Inspector Lewis Erskine the following year, and stayed with The FBI for nine years.
When the series ended in 1974, Mr. Zimbalist appeared in Airport 1975, and continued working through to 2004. He surprised everyone in 1991 with his comic role in the movie Hot Shots! His longest-running role of all has turned out not to be Inspector Erskine, but as the voice of Alfred Pennyworth in various Warner Brothers cartoons, such as Batman: The Animated Series, The New Adventures of Batman and Justice League.
Mr. Zimbalist was married to socialite Stephanie Spaulding from 1956 to 5 February 2007, when she passed away from lung cancer. He has three children, including actress Stephanie Zimbalist (Remington Steele). He became a great-grandfather in February 2008. In June 2009, he received the highest civilian honor from the FBI, in Los Angeles (see below).
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. passed away on Friday, 2 May 2014 at his home in Solvang, California from natural causes. Aged 95, he was also predeceased by older daughter Nancy, who died of cancer in 2012. Besides surviving daughter Stephanie, he is also survived by son Efrem III and by grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
This page updated 3 May 2014.
Agency honors Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
JUNE 8, 2009—Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who played Inspector Lewis Erskine on the TV series The F.B.I was awarded on 8 June 2009 the iconic gold badge--the FBI's highest civilian honor--for his historic contributions to the federal agency.
The 90-year-old actor was presented with the award—worn by special agents—by FBI Director Robert Mueller amid standing ovation from a room filled with federal agents and local law enforcement officials.
"You inspired countless men and women to take up that badge," said Mueller, adding that he was one of the show's--which ran on ABC from 1965 to 1974--devoted fans. "We are grateful for your service and friendship."
Mueller said Zimbalist helped the agency through the years by narrating FBI recruitment commercials and participating in fundraisers for children of agents killed in the line of duty.
Humbled by the high honor, Zimbalist commended the agency for persevering during the tumultuous era that the show aired, when public distrust of the government ran high. It was a tense time marked by deep national division over Vietnam, Watergate and alleged civil rights violations by government agencies like the FBI
"You have gone on unaffected by that," said Zimbalist, and called the FBI America's "guardian."