Kevin Dobson, Actor on 'Kojak' and 'Knots Landing,' Dies at 77

Kevin Dobson
Tommaso Boddi/WireImage

Kevin Dobson

The onetime Long Island Rail Road conductor starred opposite Telly Savalas and Michele Lee on the two long-running CBS dramas.

Kevin Dobson, who starred as Telly Savalas' eager young partner Bobby Crocker on Kojak and as Michele Lee's husband, Mack MacKenzie, on Knots Landing, has died. He was 77.

Dobson died Sunday evening in a hospital in Stockton, California, after struggling with an autoimmune deficiency, his rep, Arthur Toretzk, told The Hollywood Reporter. He lived in the city, home to the United Veterans Council of San Joaquin County, for whom he served as chairman.

Dobson played other cops on the short-lived 1981-82 CBS drama Shannon and on the Canadian series F/X: The Series in 1996-97 and worked on the daytime soaps Days of Our Lives, The Bold and the Beautiful and One Life to Live.

On the big screen, Dobson appeared in the 1976 war movie Midway opposite Henry Fonda and played Barbra Streisand’s husband in All Night Long (1981).

The self-assured, curly-haired Dobson burst to stardom in 1973 with his turn as Det. Crocker opposite Savalas as Lieutenant Theodopolus "Theo" Kojak on the CBS cop show Kojak. He worked on the New York-set series for five seasons before it was canceled, then returned for the 1990 TV movie Kojak: It's Always Something, his character having graduated to assistant district attorney.

Dobson joined CBS' Knots Landing at the start of its fourth season as federal prosecutor/detective MacKenzie, who eventually elopes with Lee's Karen Fairgate after investigating the death of her first husband. He remained with the primetime soap opera through its conclusion (and 14th season) in May 1993.

Dobson also was one of the more accomplished show business types to compete on the Battle of the Network Stars specials of the 1970s.

Born in Queens on March 18, 1943, and raised in housing projects in Jackson Heights, Kevin Patrick Dobson was the son of a janitor and a homemaker. He worked as a waiter and a bartender and for seven years as a conductor for the Long Island Rail Road before pursuing a career as an actor.

He found an agent, read for a summer stock play starring Tom Ewell (The Seven-Year Itch) and was inspired by the veteran actor.

"Ewell was giving a talk to some high school drama students and I listened to him. He talked about the confidence [acting] takes and it was like something said, 'This is it,' " Dobson recalled in a 2016 interview.

He studied with famed acting coach Sandy Meisner, and in 1971, made a brief appearance in Jane Fonda's Klute and moved to California. Later, he showed up on such shows as The Mod Squad, Emergency!, Ironside and Police Story before auditioning three times for Kojak.

"I was a military policeman in the Army, so I knew how to hold a gun and throw somebody against a wall," he said. "I got a call [the next night] asking if I’d sign a contract."

Just before his big break in Hollywood, he was doing the night shift as a fireman on the Santa Fe Railroad in California.

Dobson also starred in nearly three dozen TV movies during his career; more recently, he appeared on such shows as Cold Case, Anger Management and House of Lies.

Among his theater credits, Dobson starred in the national tour of Twelve Angry Men and in a long Chicago run of the hit play Art. He began his work on the stage with a national tour of The Impossible Years.

Dobson was on the board of North Hollywood’s Group Repertory Theatre, where he often directed and acted. He also volunteered with the Motion Picture Television Fund.

Survivors include his wife, Susan, whom he married in 1968; children Mariah, Patrick and Sean; grandchildren Brady, Stella, Marlowe, Tiegan and Rylan; sisters Jane and Mary; and brothers Brian and Dennis.

Known in the military community for his frequent visits to VA facilities across the U.S. to help veterans, Dobson twice served as chairman of the VA’s National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans and was recognized for his volunteer work by President George H.W. Bush in the Oval Office. He also hosted the Veterans Inaugural Balls for Bush and President Clinton. For his work to promote volunteerism at VA medical facilities, he received the AMVETS Silver Helmet Award for Americanism, the highest recognition given by a veteran organization.

"If you love America, thank a vet," he often said.