Robert Conrad was a star famous for his tough-guy persona and ability to perform his own stunts. He was part of several films and long-running series such as Wild Wild West and Baa Baa Black Sheep.
While he developed a large base of adoring fans, he was also known as a party animal. His drinking eventually caught up with him when it caused a severe car crash that left him and the other driver with permanent physical and mental scars.
Like and subscribe for more details on this familiar figure. Watch our video to learn about Robert Conrad’s tragic accident that preceded his death.
Robert Conrad had a reputation for hard-partying during his time on The Wild Wild West. It didn’t keep him from succeeding on the show, but it did eventually get him into a tragic situation that would follow him to his death.
Robert got into a car accident at the age of 73 on March 31st, 2003. His 1995 Jaguar crossed the centerline of Highway 4 and collided with Kevin Allan Burnett’s 1990 Subaru. His blood-alcohol level was above 0.22 percent at the time, which is nearly 3 times the legal limit of 0.08.
He faced 2 felony charges, one for driving under the influence and another for driving with a blood alcohol concentration of over 0.08%. The original hearing was postponed for a month until June 10th. This gave Robert enough time to recover from the injuries he sustained in the accident.
He pled guilty to both charges. On November 26th, 2004, he was placed under 6 months of house arrest and 5 years of probation. He paid over $3,600 in fines and was also required to complete an alcohol counseling program and banned from visiting bars.
Robert was released from his probation early. He served less than half of the mandated 5-year term, but a county judge ruled that he no longer needed to be supervised.
Robert’s lawyer said that the case wouldn’t be reopened because doing so would violate laws relating to double jeopardy. He was right because the ruling proved to be final.
How It Affected Robert
Robert suffered severe physical injuries after the accident. He required numerous surgeries and a physical therapy regimen.
His appearance in court proved that the reports of the injuries were true. He had a cane on one arm and a sling on the other and said he was praying for the other driver.
His lawyer Jeffrey Tuttle was one of the first to learn of his client’s injuries. He received a letter from the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center saying that Robert was partially paralyzed and sustained a head injury. He struggled to walk and had a limited range of motion in his arms.
His wife Lavelda also weighed in on how the accident affected Robert. She said he also injured his spinal cord, had only 40% use of his left arm, was confined to a wheelchair, and had slipped into a depressive state.
Mood changes were not the only neurological effects Robert experienced. His speech began to change and he developed memory loss that left him with no recollection of the incident. These changes to his mind explain why he didn’t take as many roles after the accident.
How It Affected The Victim
Robert Conrad wasn’t the only man who suffered after the tragic accident. The man in the car he crashed into was also permanently affected.
Kevin Allan Burnett suffered a wide range of injuries. Once he was released from the hospital and allowed to recover at home, family members realized the extent of the damage. They said he broke his wrist, fractured his right leg, and shattered his femur, tibia, and fibula.
The 2 felony counts against Robert weren’t the only times that the Burnett family saw him in court. They also filed a civil suit against him and his production company Black Sheep Productions. They sought damages and wanted compensation for lost earnings and medical expenses. The case was settled, but no details were released.
Kevin was eventually able to walk again, but he never fully recovered. He would seem normal one day only to be in severe pain the next. He continued to suffer until the day of his death at Mark Twain St. Joseph’s Hospital on July 27th.
An autopsy showed that his cause of death was perforated gastric ulcers. His family, including his father Kevin Burnett, believed the accident indirectly caused his death. The stress of the trials and constant pain in his knee eventually became too much.
Now that the criminal and personal charges are settled, the family doesn’t want any to take any further action. Fed Burnett says that their only hopes are that they can “get the message out there that drunk driving is a problem.”
Like and subscribe for more on the most versatile stars of all time. Keep watching to learn more about Robert Conrad’s life and death.
Robert Conrad’s Life and Death
Conrad Robert Falk was born in Chicago on March 1, 1935, to parents Leonard and Jacqueline. He was a running back in high school and began his entertainment career singing in a trio at local hotels.
He adopted the name Robert Conrad at a young age. He got tired of having to change his last name every time his mother married a new man, so he chose his own.
His interest in acting began after he stood outside a theater to promote the 1956 film Giant. He majored in theater arts at Northwestern University. While there, he befriended Nick Adams who got him a part in Juvenile Jungle in 1958.
A variety of other small roles followed, including Bat Masterson, Maverick, and Sea Hunt. He also played Tom Lopaka in Hawaiian Eye, appeared in several episodes of 77 Sunset Strip, and was one of the youngest actors in the cast of the 1963 film Palm Springs Weekend.
When Hawaiian Eye ended in 1963, Robert was playing Pretty Boy Floyd in the film Young Dillinger. His agent offered him an audition for The Wild Wild West, and it quickly became Robert’s most famous role.
He played agent James West. The show ran for 4 seasons and over 100 episodes from September 1965 to April 1969. The role earned him plenty of fans. He also played Major Greg Pappy Boyington in the period drama Baa Baa Black Sheep, also known as Black Sheep Squadron, which ran from 1976-1978.
Politicians sought to lessen the amount of violence on TV after the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. This was a major factor in Wild West’s cancellation despite it holding a 33% audience share in its final season. Baa Baa Black Sheep was also canceled for being too violent. After losing two of his most memorable roles, Robert said, “I got a double hit.”
One of his first major stunt jobs was as mixed-race detective Lopaka on Hawaiian Eye. He was able to safely fall backward off of his horse, establishing himself as a talented stuntman. He claims that executives would hire him whenever there was a speaking role associated with a stunt because “you got two for the price of one.”
Robert always claimed to do all of his own stunts. While this was often true, Gene Scott Freese found out in his 2014 book Hollywood Stun Performers that he was occasionally replaced by other stuntmen. They would never wear his wardrobe to keep the illusion alive.
A dangerous stunt almost took Robert’s life. He jumped from a balcony and missed the chandelier he was supposed to jump onto, landing on the concrete floor. He ended up with a skull fracture and concussion. He realized how potentially deadly the event was and notes, “I almost at the cookie, but I didn’t.”
Robert’s stunt work was so famous and well-received that he was inducted into the Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame. He’s one of only a handful of actors to receive this honor.
Robert also starred in several commercials for Eveready batteries. In each one, he would perform a vigorous activity like boxing, put a battery on his shoulder, and say some variation of the catchphrase “I dare you to knock this off.”
Robert said the performance he was most proud of was Pasquinel in Centennial, a 12-episode miniseries that aired on NBC from 1979-1979. Writer James Michener once told him he played the character better than he had written it.
Robert retired from acting after the 2003 accident but spent 5 years as the host of The PM Show with Robert Conrad on CRN Digital Talk Radio. His production company released a few successful movies, and he was also able to spend the last years of his life enjoying the fruits of his labor and seeing his shows find a new audience.
Robert loved the fact that The Wild Wild West lives on in syndication. It’s gained a cult following with fans who weren’t born when it originally aired. He said that “the show that wasn’t supposed to work, works” and that he felt like the famous Energizer Bunny because he kept “going on and on and on.”
What he didn’t love was the 1999 movie based on the show starring Will Smith. He called the remake horrible and pathetic and accepted its Razzie Award.
Robert was a handsome actor with a masculine image that may have helped him attract the ladies. He was married several times. His first wife was Joan Kenle. They were married from 1952-1977 and had 5 children, Joan, Shane, Christian, Christy, and Nancy. He met LaVelda Fann when he was the M.C. at the Miss National Teenager pageant in 1977. They had 3 children, Caja, Camille, and Chelsea, and divorced in 2010. She was still there to help him at the time of his death.
Robert Conrad died of heart failure in Hawaii on February 8th, 2020 at the age of 84. He’s survived by his children and 18 grandchildren.
Robert Conrad brought a memorable presence to whatever he did, whether it was stunt work, TV, films, or commercials. A tragic mistake left him paralyzed and affected his memory, leaving him unable to recreate that same magic before his death.
Are you one of the cult fans that watched The Wild Wild West after it entered syndication? Let us know in the comments below. Like and subscribe for more on your favorite “tough guy” actors.