Actor John Gavin, known for roles in the Roman epic Spartacus and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho before serving as president of the Screen Actors Guild in the early ’70s and as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico under Ronald Reagan, passed away on February 9, 2018. His death was confirmed by Budd Burton Moss, Gavin’s former agent, who did not specify a cause but said Gavin had been ill for months. He was 86 years old.
Born Juan Vincent Apablasa Jr. on April 8, 1931, Gavin was raised in Los Angeles, California and initially had very little interest in acting. He attended St. John’s Military Academy and Villanova Prep, later earning a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Latin American Affairs from Stanford University. “I never did any acting in school, never had any curiosity about college plays,” he once said. “My entire thought moved in quite another direction.”
After serving in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, Gavin offered himself as a technical adviser to family friend producing a movie about the ship he served on. Instead, the producer arranged a screen test for Gavin with Universal-International who groomed Gavin into a virile leading man.
His handsome looks and mellow baritone made him perfect to star opposite leading actresses such as Lana Turner in Imitation of Life, Sophia Loren in A Breath of Scandal, Susan Hayward in Back Street, and Katharine Hepburn in The Madwoman of Chaillot. Additional film roles for Gavin included Janet Leigh’s lover in Hitchcock’s classic thriller Psycho, Julius Caesar in Spartacus and Julie Andrews’s singing boss in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Gavin transitioned to television starring in episodes of the western series Destry and the war drama Convoy, as well as guest appearances on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Gavin was optioned to play James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever and Live And Let Die but lost out to Sean Connery and Roger Moore, respectively.
During the ’70s, Gavin became more interested in politics, serving as a special adviser to the secretary general of the Organization of American States. He later undertook assignments promoting American and Latin American film production for the Alliance for Progress, while also serving as the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1971 to 1973. When Ronald Reagan, entered the White House in 1981, he named Gavin ambassador to Mexico. A decision that was perceived as very controversial given Gavin’s lack of qualifications and the contributions he gave to Reagan’s campaign. Following a number of scandals, Gavin quietly resigned in 1986 and went on to a successful business career.
Gavin’s first marriage to actress Cicely Evans ended in 1965, but the pair had two children together – Cristina and Maria. He later married actress Constance Towers in 1974, who had two children from a previous marriage – Michael and Maureen. Along with his wife, Gavin is survived by his children, stepchildren, and several grandchildren.