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Stuart Damon - An Obituary

Stuart Damon – Actor

 Born February 5, 1937; died June 29, 2021 

 

 Stuart Damon, who has died aged 84, was an American actor best known to British viewers for his role in ITC’s 1968 series, The Champions. On home turf, however, Damon is associated for his epic stint in medical based TV soap, General Hospital (1977-2013).

 

In The Champions, Damon played Craig Stirling, one of three secret agents working for the Geneva based Nemesis organisation. When Stirling and his partners Sharron Macready, played by Alexandra Bastedo, and Richard Barrett, played by William Gaunt, are shot down over the Himalayas, their Tibetan saviours gift them telepathic powers, extra strength and heightened sensory skills. 

 

The Champions’ fusion of voguish spy caper with eastern mysticism and sci-fi trappings saw the programme run for thirty episodes. Damon’s Stirling was the team’s de facto leader, a dashing pilot, whose steely American cool was a neat counterpoint to Macready and Barrett’s Englishness. 

 

In General Hospital, Damon was physician Dr. Alan Quartermaine. He was nominated for numerous Emmys, eventually winning an Outstanding Supporting Actor award in 1999 for his portrayal of Quartermaine’s addiction to painkillers. Damon was suddenly dropped from the show in 2006 when Quartermaine was killed off. He returned sporadically, however, first as Quartermaine’s ghost, then for a fantasy sequence, with his final appearance as a hallucination marking the programme’s fiftieth anniversary in 2013.

 

Stuart Michael Zonis was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Marvin Zonis and Eva Sherer, Russian Jewish immigrants who had fled the Bolshevik Revolution. He was active in plays and musicals while at Brandeis University, Boston, and, after graduating in 1958, joined the ensemble cast for Pride and Prejudice inspired musical, First Impressions (1959). He went on to appear in short-lived revue, From A to Z (1960), followed by a thirteen-month stint in Irma La Douce (1960). 

 

On TV, Damon appeared in an episode of New York based police drama, Naked City (1962), before appearing in an Off-Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hart’s The Boys From Syracuse (1963), and Do I Hear A Waltz? (1965), by Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim. He also played Prince Charming in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1965 TV spectacular, Cinderella, opposite Lesley Ann Warren in a production that also featured Ginger Rogers and Walter Pidgeon.

 

Moving to the UK, Damon played an American abroad in A Really Good Jazz Piano (1964), an ITV Play of the Week scripted by Peter Yeldham from Richard Yates’ short story. He starred on the West End with Anna Neagle in Charlie Girl (1965), and appeared in an episode of Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe’s series, The Bed-Sit Girl (1966), starring Sheila Hancock.

 

He made his first appearance on one of the numerous adventure yarns produced by Lew Grade’s ITC company in an episode of Man in a Suitcase (1967), and later went on to make guest appearances in The Saint (1969), Department S (1969), and The Adventurer (1972-1973). Damon also appeared in episodes of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson created live action sci-fi shows, UFO (1970) and Space: 1999 (1975-1977).

 

Damon played the penniless American in a four-part adaptation of Mark Twain’s novel, The £1,000,000 Bank Note (1968). The same year, he played Harry Houdini in lavish stage show, Man of Magic. Other sideways turns saw Damon appear in Sitting Ducks (1969), an episode of Brian Rix Presents…, and in an episode of Steptoe and Son (1970).

 

At the height of his Champions fame, Damon took his musical theatre experience beyond the several cast recordings he appeared on to release Stuart ‘Champion’ Damon (1970), an album of songs recorded with an orchestral backing. These including The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp, previously a hit for O.C. Smith, and The Beatles’ The Long and Winding Road.

 

Damon later sang on several editions of Stars on Sunday (1971-1973), and did a turn on clubland variety show, The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club (1974). Also on the bill were Max Wall and comedian Mike Reid, who performed alongside presenters Bernard Manning and Colin Crompton. Damon sang Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, The Yellow Rose of Texas and, as a framed photograph of Richard Nixon appeared on-screen, closed the show with The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

 

Damon played a Russian in Shirley’s World (1971), a vehicle for Shirley MacLaine; was a duplicitous hypnotist in The Adventures of Black Beauty (1973); and took the title role in A Touch of the Casanovas (1975), alongside Frankie Howerd. He appeared in Thriller – Nightmare for a Nightingale (1976), was an American soldier in Yanks Go Home (1976), and played a CIA agent in The New Avengers (1977).

 

Returning to the U.S., Damon began his length stint in General Hospital, later appearing as Quartermaine in offshoot show, Port Charles (1997-2001). Along the way, he appeared in episodes of Fantasy Island (1982-1983), Mike Hammer (1987), and a Perry Mason TV movie, The Case of the Killer Kiss (1993). There were brief runs later in As The World Turns (2009-2010), and Days of Our Lives (2010).

 

By this time, Damon had reunited with Bastedo and Gaunt for We Were the Champions (2006), a short documentary accompanying the DVD release of The Champions, one of two defining roles in a long and distinguished career. 

 

He is survived by his wife of more than sixty years, Deirdre Ottewill, and their children, Jennifer and Christopher. Damon and Ottewill adopted their grandson, Alexander, in 2000.


The Herald, July 22nd 2021

 

ends

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