Robert CulpAs something of an espionage geek, I was saddened to learn today of the death of Robert Culp, 79. Culp was co-star of the TV classic I Spy, one of the best shows to arise during the Sixties spy boom. Besides being a talented actor, writer, and director, Robert Culp also supported many worthy causes, including animal welfare.

One of Culp’s most well-known efforts was his attempt to halt construction of a new elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo. According to the Los Angeles Times, “In 2007, the actor joined with real estate agent Aaron Leider in filing a lawsuit against zoo director John Lewis and the city to stop construction of a $42-million elephant exhibit and bar the zoo from keeping elephants there, accusing authorities at the facility of withholding medical care from the animals and keeping them cramped in small places.” Culp also called for the zoo’s single elephant, Billy, to be sent to a natural habitat sanctuary. That hasn’t happened, and the L.A. zoo is going forward with its elephant exhibit.

In addition to his efforts on the behalf of pachyderms, Culp was a supporter of Best Friends Animal Society. He served on the honorary committee for their 25th Anniversary at the annual Lint Roller Party, and made appearances at Best Friends Adoption Festivals. Culp also showed support for the Humane Society of the United States, participating in their annual Genesis Awards.

Disproving the ridiculous claim that animal welfare advocates “don’t care about people,” Robert Culp was also active in the civil rights movement. After all, I Spy was the first American television drama to feature an African-American (Bill Cosby) in a lead role. According to the Associated Press, after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Culp and Cosby “traveled to Memphis, Tenn., to join the striking garbage workers King had been organizing.”

It was Bill Cosby who offered one of the best tributes to his late friend: “The first born in every family is always dreaming of the older brother or sister he or she doesn’t have, to protect, to be the buffer, provide the wisdom, shoulder the blows and make things right…. Bob was the answer to my dreams.” Robert Culp also tried to make things right for another Bill, who happens to be an elephant, and for other animals looking for a forever home.

Photo Credit: Manuel Bartual