Robert Wolders, Actor and Longtime Audrey Hepburn Companion, Dies at 81

Robert Wolders

He starred on the NBC Western 'Laredo' and was married to actress Merle Oberon.

Dutch actor Robert Wolders, the longtime companion of Breakfast at Tiffany's star Audrey Hepburn who starred on the 1960s TV Western Laredo and appeared in films like Beau Geste, has died. He was 81.

Wolders died Thursday "surrounded by loving family," according to Ellen Fontana, executive director of the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund. She said his family did not wish to divulge any other details of his death. He was a member of the board of directors of the fund.

Wolders was the fourth husband of actress Merle Oberon (Wuthering Heights, The Scarlet Pimpernel), married to her for about four years until her death in 1979 at age 68 from stroke complications. They starred opposite each other as lovers in the May-September romantic drama Interval (1973), her final film.

The actor met the Oscar-winning Hepburn in 1980 as her marriage to Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti was winding down, and they were together when the icon of Hollywood and style died from a rare cancer of the appendix on Jan. 20, 1993. She was 63.

"I have a wonderful man in my life, I have my Robert," Hepburn said in a 1989 interview with Barbara Walters. "We have so much in common, he's so good to me, he takes great care of me. He gives me that marvelous feeling that I'm protected and that I'm the most important thing to him."

"After I'd met her, a mutual friend prompted me to ask her out for dinner, but she said she had a night shoot," Wolders told People magazine last year. "I thought it was her gentle way of rejecting me.

"The next day she invited me for a drink at the Pierre hotel, which turned into a three-hour talk. At one point she said, 'Do you mind if I order some pasta?' After many long phone conversations, we realized we were meant to be together. She asked me if she could take time to prepare [her son] Luca and Andrea, her soon-to-be-ex-husband. When she saw him, Andrea came over and said, 'You look very beautiful, you must be in love,' and she said, 'I am.'"

Hepburn was a longtime UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and Wolders accompanied her on many of her missions for the children's charity, including her last one, to Somalia, in 1992.

After Hepburn's death, he dated Gigi star Leslie Caron and then had a two-decade relationship with Shirlee Fonda, the fifth wife of late actor Henry Fonda.

"The odd thing is that Shirlee was a great friend of Audrey and a great friend of Merle. In the same circle. Maybe it sounds odd," Wolders said in a 2012 interview. "They were friends, each one, and I knew that Merle would have approved of me being with Audrey certainly, instead of becoming the extra man. And Audrey would have approved of Shirlee."

Wolders was born on Sept. 28, 1936, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The son of an actress, he came to the U.S. and enrolled at the University of Rochester, then studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He appeared on a 1965 episode of NBC's Flipper and signed a contract with Universal.

Wolders played the French soldier Fouchet in the 1966 remake of Beau Geste that starred Guy Stockwell and was a military man who is slain in the Rock Hudson-George Peppard drama Tobruk (1967).

Wolders joined NBC's lighthearted Laredo for its second and final season, 1966-67, as Erik Hunter, a rookie Texas Ranger from somewhere in Europe who wore colorful clothing. He once described his character as "a combination of Errol Flynn, 007 and Casanova."

The handsome actor also played Paul Van Dillen, a charming ski instructor who has a superficial romance with Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) that draws all kinds of reactions from her co-workers, on a 1974 episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Wolders also appeared on series including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Dan August, Peppard's Banacek and Hudson's McMillan & Wife and in a 1975 CBS telefilm, The Legendary Curse of the Hope Diamond, which marked his last acting appearance.

Rhett Bartlett contributed to this report.