John Gavin, the tall, strikingly handsome actor who appeared in Spartacus, served as President Ronald Reagan's ambassador to Mexico, and was the husband of Constance Towers (Vivian Alamain, Days of our Lives), died Friday at age 86. A cause of death has not been given, though the actor was to said to have been ill for months.
Born John Golenor into a well-to-do Los Angeles family on April 8, 1931, John Gavin attended Stanford University and served in the Navy. Gavin wasn't sure of his career path, but that changed when a family friend, producer Bryan Foy, suggested he try acting.
Although he had studied drama at Stanford and made a few appearances on TV and in the theater, Gavin played that down during his screen test with Universal.
"Probably if I told the studio I had come out of the Stanford drama school, done a little theater and TV, I wouldn't have had a chance," Gavin told The Associated Press in 1958. "But they seemed intrigued by my lack of credentials."
He went on to make appearances in a handful of 1950s B-movies before landing his breakthrough role of a World War II German soldier in A Time to Love and a Time to Die. The movie failed to make an impact at the box office, but Universal remained committed to the actor. He went on to star opposite Lana Turner in a remake of the soap opera Imitation of Life in 1959. His next role was that of Janet Leigh's divorced lover, Sam Loomis, in the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho.
Over the next few years, Gavin went on to appear in numerous films, playing Julius Caesar in Spartacus, appearing opposite Susan Hayward in Back Street, and opposite Sandra Dee in Peter Ustinov's Shakespearian spoof Romanoff and Juliet and in Tammy Tell Me True.
During his time with Universal, Gavin became friends with Ronald Reagan, and their friendship continued when Gavin became president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1961, a position Reagan previously held. Reagan appointed Gavin ambassador to Mexico, but Mexico was initially dubious about having a former movie star as their U.S. ambassador. The 6-foot-4-inch Gavin eventually won them over.
While at Stanford, Gavin met Cicely Evans. After an eight-year courtship, they married in 1957 and had two daughters, Cristina and Maria. They were subsequently divorced, and in 1974, Gavin married Constance Towers, an actress and singer in Broadway musicals and Hollywood films.
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