Edward Mulhare, the lanky Irish character actor best known as the begrudging specter in television's "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," died Saturday at home in Van Nuys after a five-month battle with long cancer. He was 74.
Mulhare left behind a rich resume well peppered with credits from stage, screen and TV, ranging from his turn on a London stage opposite Orson Welles' Othello to his recent work with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in "Out to Sea" due in theaters this July.
He played in musicals, road shows and TV series, switching readily from the haughty pomp of professor Henry Higgins as the first replacement for Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady" to a variety of roles in early television dramas such as "Studio One" and "Kraft Theater."
"He was brilliant to the end," said spokeswoman and longtime friends Pegge Forrest. "That wit and humor and intelligence went just to the last minute. He was waking up from deep comas... and sayingsomething that would blow everybody away."
Mulhare began his acting career in Ireland at 19 and eventually moved to London, where he played in the 1951 production of "Othello" at the St. James Theater directed by Laurence Olivier.
When Rex Harrison bowed out of the lead in "My Fair Lady" after a one-year run on Broadway, Mulhare took over the role, Forrest said.
"He was a young man (in his 30's), way too young to play the part," siad Forrest, recalling the transformation Mulhare made into the imperious professor of dialect. "But he had a little bit of the look of Rex Harrison," and kept the role from 1957 to 1960, she said.
Mulhare went on to star in the "Devil's Advocate" and "Mary, Mary" on Broadway and later played Capt. Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music" for the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera.
He toured nationally with such shows as "Camelot," "My Fair Lady" and "Deathtrap" with lifelong friend Anne Rogers.
His television credits included appearances on "Murder, She Wrote," "MacGyver," "Outer Limits" and "The Ed Sullivan Show."
On the big screen, his credits included roles in "Von Ryan's Express," "Eye of the Devil," "Carprice" and "Our Man Flint."
Mulhare also performed from 1982 to 1986 in the TV series "Knight Rider" as Devon Miles, a mentor to the lead character played by David Hasselhoff.
His final television appearance came in December opposite Hasselhoff in "Baywatch Nights."
Mulhare returned from a trip to New York in January feeling ill, and was diagnosed with lung cancer soon thereafter, Forrest said. He had been a heavy smoker earlier in life; five packs a day until he quit in 1979, she said.
"When someone announced he was ill, he started getting fan mail from all these people who had seen 'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir' when they were kids, and now were in their 30s and 40s saying, 'We never missed your show,'" Forrest said.
Mulhare played Capt. Daniel Gregg, the ghost of a New England mariner who found himself the reluctant host to a recently widowed mother of two played by Hope Lange.
Mulhare was an avid reader, often devouring a book a day, and was fascinated by computers, including the five he tinkered with in his Van Nuys home, Forrest said.
Mulhare is survived by two brothers, Thomas and John, in County Cork, Ireland.
Plans for services are pending.