David McCallum led a long and successful life by any measuring stick. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and NCIS star passed away earlier this week at 90, prompting an outpour of tributes from fans and co-stars.

That McCallum will be missed is undeniable, and as is always the case when such a high-profile individual passes, his life has been revisited and combed through these past few days.

All told, the actor enjoyed an illustrious career, one featuring memorable performances in both TV and film. Yet it turns out his private life had its fair share of ups and downs too, with one sorry chapter seeming to come straight out of a well-written soap opera.

Did you know that McCallum once lost his wife, fellow star Jill Ireland, to another famous actor when he was cast in 1963’s The Great Escape? No? well we didn’t either, if we’re honest. So read on below for more…

The entertainment industry lost a true star earlier this week when the family of David McCallum confirmed the actor’s passing at the age of 90.

McCallum is survived by his wife of close to 60 years, Katherine Carpenter, and his five children (from a prior marriage, as well as from his marriage to Carpenter), as well as eight grandchildren.

Credit / Silver Screen Collection / Getty

Three of his children came from an earlier marriage to actress Jill Ireland. The pair were wed from 1957 to 1967, though the story of their separation is perhaps not as well known as it should be.

According to reports, McCallum considered himself to be in a happy, healthy marriage when he was cast in the iconic 1963 war film The Great Escape. The gig promised to be a career-defining project, also boasting the likes of Steve McQueen, James Garner and Charles Bronson.

Yet no sooner than had David introduced the latter to his wife while on set, did Bronson respond with a cryptic warning. McCallum explained how his fellow actor looked him in the eyes and said: “Pay more attention to your wife. Or I will take her from you.”

David McCallum pictured in 2016. Credit / David Livingston / Getty

Needless to say, McCallum is well aware that he should have perhaps been more startled by that statement at the time.

As per the Mirror, he once recalled: “Jill had just had a miscarriage so I was concerned about leaving her, but Charles Bronson said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her. I didn’t realise they had already begun an affair.”

McCallum continued: “It was an extremely difficult time, not least because we had three children.”

(Original Caption) New York, New York: Publicity handout from Death Wish shows Charles Bronson seated on the banks of the East River with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. 1974.

After he and Jill divorced, the actor found love again with Katherine Carpenter. The two welcomed children Peter and Sophie, remaining married for 56 years until his McCallum’s death. Jill, meanwhile, stayed with Charles Bronson until she passed in 1990 at the age of 54.

Fortunately, McCallum is remembered more for his stellar work than he is the unfortunate events that saw him lose his first wife to another man. All told, McCallum played chief medical examiner Donald “Ducky” Mallard on popular show NCIS for all 20 seasons. At the time of his death, he was the show’s last remaining original cast member, following the exit of Mark Harmon early in season 19.

Before passing away at the age of 90, David expressed his desire to prioritize spending quality time with his family, which encompassed his wife, children, six grandchildren, and their cat, Nickie.

When he happily announced on Facebook that he had come to an agreement with CBS for Dr. Donald Mallard to remain with NCIS for Season 16, the actor wrote:

“Once again, the schedule will be constrained. That arrangement will enable me to spend more time with Katherine, our children, six grandchildren, and Nickie.”


McCallum consistently prioritized his family over his own interests. He eagerly anticipated every opportunity to engage with his grandchildren, and he shared a distinct, individual connection with each of them. Frequently, he and his youngest grandson, Whit, aged 9, could be spotted at family gatherings, engaged in profound philosophical discussions in a quiet corner of the room.

One of McCallum’s four children, Peter McCallum, described his father as “the kindest, coolest, most patient and loving father” in a touching tribute.

“When I returned from the hospital to their apartment, I asked my mother if she was OK before she went to sleep,” he added.

“Her response was simply, ‘Yes.’” But I wish we could have grown old together.’”She is 79, and dad just turned 90. The honesty in that emotion shows how vibrant their beautiful relationship and daily lives were, and that somehow, even at 90, Daddy never grew old,” Peter said in a statement.

We’re sending love and prayers to all of David McCallum’s family. If you’ve ever considered yourself a fan, check out the heartbreaking way Mark Harmon paid tribute to him…