TELEVISION hard man Lewis Collins, known to millions as one half of the Professionals, has died aged 67.
The actor, who played Bodie in the crime drama alongside co-star Martin Shaw, died in Los Angeles yesterday after a five-year struggle with cancer.
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His agent said: ‘‘He died peacefully at his LA home surrounded by his family. Privacy is asked for at this very sad time.’’
Collins, who was born on Merseyside, worked as a hairdresser before he became an actor.
He landed his breakthrough role, as former SAS soldier William Bodie, after screen testing for the part of Mike Gambit in The New Avengers.
Although Collins lost out to Gareth Hunt, the producers remembered him when they planned a new series called The A Squad (later renamed The Professionals).
He was teamed with another New Avengers bit player, Martin Shaw, who was cast as former police man Ray Doyle.
Together with Gordon Jackson the trio fought terrorists on a weekly basis in 57 action-packed episodes.
At its height The Professionals was the most popular drama on television. It's action-packed style - and the fact it was shot on 16mm film at a time when other dramas used cheaper video tape - made it unique on British TV and gave it a gritty movie-like quality.
Sadly, Martin Shaw grew tired of the formulaic plots and opted to leave in 1981.
Collins, whose brother lives in Darlington, went on to play a similar character to Bodie in Who Dares Wins, Euan Lloyd's big-screen tribute to the SAS.
He was hugely popular in Italy where he starred in several military action adventures, such as The Commander, for Italian director Antonio Margheriti.
Shaw said today: ‘‘I was very sad to hear today that Lewis has died. We spent a very tough four years together in making The Professionals, and shared in the production of what has become an icon of British Television.
‘‘He will be remembered as part of the childhood of so many people, and mourned by his fans. I send my love and condolences to his family, and the great many who will miss him.’’