Roger Smith, the star of the classic television series 77 Sunset Strip (1958-64), has died. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Smith died on Sunday at Sherman Oaks Hospital in California. No cause of death has been announced. He was 84.
Though he attained stardom on 77 Sunset Strip, Smith was forced to retire prematurely in 1980 after being diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease called Myasthenia Gravis. From that point on, he became the manager for his wife Ann-Margret, who just so happened to be a world famous performer in her own right. To commemorate Smith’s life, here are five fast facts about the late actor and Ann-Margret.
1. They Were Married In 1967
The 1960s were a difficult time for Smith. He was diagnosed with a blood clot in his brain in 1962, which forced him to exit 77 Sunset Strip for a time, and even upon his return, he and rest of the main cast were let go the following year. His divorce from Victoria Shaw was finalized in 1964, and his attempt to parlay the success of Sunset Strip into a television adaptation of Mister Roberts (1965) lasted only one season. After that, he made only two more acting appearances: Rogue’s Caper, and Criminal Affair, both of which were released in 1968.
The saving grace for Smith was a chance encounter with Ann-Margret, who was one of the biggest actresses in the world at the time. “Every other woman I met was falling all over me,” Smith said in 1976, “but this innocent, fresh-faced beauty only spoke to me when I spoke to her and the rest of the time ignored me. I was impressed.” It didn’t take long for Margret to reciprocate. Due to the success of Viva Las Vegas (1964), many shipped her and Elvis Presley at the time, but it was obvious that Smith was the man for her. “I knew on the third date that we were going to be married,” Margret told CBN in 2016, “It just felt right.”
Smith, 34, and Margret, 27, would do just that on May 8th, 1967. They eloped to Las Vegas, and Margret says the room they exchanged vows in was filled with cigarette smoke and far from glamorous. “This is not the way I envisioned my wedding,” she later said. “I think everyone thought I was pregnant because I was crying though the whole thing. But we did it!”
2. Smith Was Married Once Before
Smith’s marriage to Ann-Margret was actually not the first time the actor had taken a wife. In 1956, Smith married Australian actress Victoria Shaw, whom he would go on to act with during an episode of 77 Sunset Strip. They had three children together, Tracey, Jordan, and Dallas, before their divorce in 1965. During the divorce proceedings, Shaw claimed that during the last three years of their marriage, Smith seldom talked to her when he came home from work.
“He said he didn’t have anything to talk about and the only conversation we had was when I would talk about his hobbies or anything he was interested in.” Smith didn’t refute these allegations, and eventually agreed to give Shaw their family home in Encino and, according to Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen, “$1,750 per month for both alimony and child support.”
As for Shaw’s career, she’s best known for films like The Eddy Dutchin Story (1957),The Crimson Kimono (1959), and the science fiction cult classic Westworld (1973). Like her ex-husband, Shaw too was hampered by sickness, and died on August 17th, 1988 as a result of her emphysema. She was 53.
3. Smith Produced Several of Margret’s Films & TV Specials
Smith, with acting all but behind him by the early 1970s, formed a production company called Rogallan Productions with his former manager Allan Carr. The company produced a series of successful films, including The First Time (1969) with Jacqueline Bisset, and C.C. and Company (1970), which starred NFL star Joe Namath and Margret. Smith, while known primarily for his acting, also wrote the screenplay for both films.
As Smith’s career behind the scenes progressed, however, he focused more on his wife’s career, producing numerous stage shows and TV specials for her, including Ann-Margaret: From Hollywood With Live (1969), Ann-Margret: When You’re Smiling (1973) and Ann-Margret … Rhinestone Cowgirl (1977). Smith also served as a co-producer on the 1994 television film Nobody’s Children.
4. They Supported Each Other Through Life-Threatening Scares
Through the years, Smith and Margret helped each other in a variety of different ways. For Smith, she gave him an opportunity to move away from acting and deal with his debilitation while maintaining a career in show business. According to Country Living, he became her business manager to increase her profits and to allow for them to constantly be close to one another. “When I met Ann-Margret, I felt happy for the first time in my life,” said Smith. “Once I found Ann-Margret, I couldn’t stand to be without her and, surprisingly, she couldn’t stand to be without me.”
This included a frightening experience in 1972 when Margret fell 22 feet off an elevated platform and suffered a broken arm, cheekbone and jawbone. Smith flew a plane (one he allegedly stole in a panic) to Lake Tahoe to retrieve his wife and rush her to surgeons in UCLA for treatment. After 10 weeks of medical care, she returned to the stage good as new.
She wanted me to be like her father and I wanted to do it for her,” Smith recalled. “It’s corny but true: By doing what she wanted, I liked myself much better. Being with her was more important than all my childhood dreams about being a famous actor.” Margret added: “He had more faith in me than I did. One of the main things about my view of his was that he would protect me.”
5. They Celebrated Their 50th Anniversary In May
Smith and Margret celebrated 50 years together this past May. According to Margret, the trick to maintaining a happy marriage after all these years was humor. “We laugh at ourselves,” she told People magazine, “We get into weird situations. If you can’t laugh at yourself you are in trouble. We laugh before everyone else does.” Margret, who will next appear in the comedy Going In Style, added that the secret to making it work is that “we both want it to work.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Smith made fewer and fewer public appearances because of his failing health” as of late. When he did appear, it was typically in support of his wife, at events such as the Emmy Awards or the Golden Globes.
There have been no official statements made on his passing, but early reports suggest that the funeral will be private.
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