Lloyd Bridges, the athletic actor who made skin diving popular in his underwater television series “Sea Hunt” in the 1950s and continued working into his 80s as patriarch of an acting dynasty, died Tuesday. He was 85.
The craggy-faced Bridges, familiar to younger audiences for the “Airplane” movie series and recent television dramas, died at his home in Los Angeles, his agent Lee Stollman said. Bridges had suffered a heart condition since 1992.
Among his more than 100 motion pictures, his most memorable roles were supporting parts as a soldier in the 1949 racial military film “Home of the Brave,” as a deputy refusing to aid Gary Cooper’s sheriff in the 1952 classic “High Noon,” and as the comedic, gruff, hard-drinking controller in the 1980 spoof “Airplane” and its 1982 sequel.
In recent years, Bridges frequently acted with sons Beau and Jeff (whom he first put before the camera in “Sea Hunt”) in films and TV productions. In 1986, the patriarch introduced grandson Jordan in the TV movie “Thanksgiving Promise.” The true family feature starred Lloyd, Beau and Jordan but also included Bridges’ wife, Dorothy, in a supporting role and son Jeff in a walk-on part.
Lloyd Bridges appeared with son Jeff in the 1988 film “Tucker: The Man and his Dream” and played a recurring role on son Beau’s TV series “Harts of the West” in 1993. In 1995, Lloyd Bridges was on cable television’s “The Outer Limits” with son Beau and grandson Dylan. He recently had completed filming the motion picture “Meeting Daddy” with Beau.
On stage since the late 1930s, Bridges first became a household face and name as Mike Nelson, ex-Navy frogman and free-lance underwater investigator in television’s “Sea Hunt.” The innovative series, filmed largely in a tank at the now-defunct Marineland of the Pacific on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles, ran from 1957 to 1961 and appeared in syndication through the 1960s.
Although he was an avid, lifelong tennis player and swimmer and played basketball, baseball and football in his high school and college years, Bridges admitted he never had tried skin diving until he landed the part.
“I’ve always loved the ocean,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1960 in the series’ heyday. “Now, skin diving is my favorite sport. It’s a funny thing. People see me dive on the show and think I’m an expert. … The skindiving equipment manufacturers tell us that in the three years ‘Sea Hunt’ has been on the air, interest in skin diving has zoomed.”
Bridges had other television series, but none equaled his initial success - “The Lloyd Bridges Show” in 1962-63 in which he played Walter Mitty-like reporter Adam Sheppard, who became the protagonist in his own stories; Rod Serling’s “The Loner” in 1965-66; as manager of “San Francisco International Airport” in 1970-71; “Lloyd Bridges: Water World” in 1972; as street cop “Joe Forrester” in 1975-76; as owner of a model agency in “Paper Dolls” in 1984; and as editor Jonathan “Jo Jo” Turner in “Capitol News” in 1990.
He also was a familiar actor in the television miniseries “Roots,” “How the West Was Won,” “East of Eden,” “The Blue and the Gray,” “George Washington” and as Jefferson Davis in “North and South Book II.”
Besides his wife and two sons, Bridges is survived by a daughter, Lucinda, and 12 grandchildren.