1960s 'Icon to American Youth' Dead at 94

George Maharis starred in 'Route 66'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 29, 2023 2:30 AM CDT
Route 66 Star George Maharis Dead at 94
Maharis originally wanted to be a singer but switched to acting after damaging his vocal cords.   (Amazon.com)

George Maharis, a stage-trained actor with rough-hewn good looks who became an icon to American youth in the 1960s as he cruised the country in a Corvette convertible in the hit television series Route 66, has died. Maharis' friend and caretaker Marc Bahan said in a Facebook post that he died Wednesday, the AP reports. Bahan told the Hollywood Reporter, which first reported Maharis' death, that he died at his home in Beverly Hills, California, after contracting hepatitis. He was 94. On Route 66, Maharis played Buz Murdock, a hardened survivor of New York City's Hell's Kitchen. His co-star Martin Milner, who died in 2015, was Tod Stiles, a young man raised in wealth who upon his father's death was left with nothing but a shiny new Corvette.

The pair decided to travel the highway author John Steinbeck had dubbed "The Mother Road." Each week brought a new adventure in a new city, and audiences tuned in in droves. Route 66 was the rare series at the time that was filmed on location, moving to new towns and cities for each new episode. It featured as guest stars future stars including Robert Redford, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Alan Alda in some of their earliest roles. The storied highway itself was as much a star of the show as Maharis and Milner. Since bypassed in favor of bigger, faster interstates, it stretched unbroken from Chicago to the Pacific Ocean and was venerated as a driving force behind the country's 20th century westward migration.

Maharis left the show after the third season—it would continue for one more without him—and never again achieved the same fame. He got a name check that introduced him to subsequent generations in director Quentin Tarantino's 2019 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, when fictional actor Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, says he was considered for the Steve McQueen role in The Great Escape along with three Georges: “Peppard, Maharis and Chakiris.” Maharis went on to star in films including Quick Before It Melts, The Satan Bug, Sylvia, A Covenant with Death, The Happening, The Desperadoes, and Land Raiders. He also appeared on TV movies and series including Fantasy Island, The Bionic Woman, and Murder, She Wrote. In 1970, he returned to weekly television, playing a criminologist in The Most Deadly Game, but the show lasted only one season.

(More obituary stories.)

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