CALABASAS, Calif. — Michael Ansara, a busy and widely recognizable character actor who was best known for portraying American Indians and later a Klingon in three different “Star Trek” series, died Wednesday at his home in Calabasas, Calif. He was 91.
His former agent, Michael B. Druxman, announced the death Friday, saying the cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Born in Syria, Ansara mostly played ethnic roles, Indians being a particular specialty. He became a star in the 1950s on the ABC television show “Broken Arrow,” a fictionalized account of the friendship between Apache chief Cochise, played by Ansara, and Indian agent Tom Jeffords, played by John Lupton. His second marriage was to actress Barbara Eden, best known as Jeannie on “I Dream of Jeannie.”
“Broken Arrow” was on the air from 1956 to 1958. A year later, Ansara was back on television as another Apache, on the short-lived NBC series “Law of the Plainsman.” This time he played a U.S. marshal with a Harvard degree.
Indian roles kept coming, on shows like “Wagon Train” and “Gunsmoke” and in movies like “Texas Across the River” (1966). But he was also cast as an Egyptian taskmaster in “The Ten Commandments,” the 1956 epic with Charlton Heston; as Judas Iscariot in “The Robe” (1953), with Richard Burton and Jean Simmons; and an Arabian prince who kidnaps an American movie star, played by Elvis Presley, in “Harum Scarum” (1965).
His long resume included characters who were Italian, Hispanic and, once in a while, even Americans of no particular ethnicity.
In one of his most memorable roles he embodied another species altogether, as the evil Klingon leader Kang in “Star Trek.” He played the part, complete with wing-like eyebrows, on the original television series in 1968 and reprised the role for two of its TV descendants: “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager.” He was one of a handful of actors to play the same part on three different “Star Trek” series.
Ansara was a guest star on many of the most well-known television series of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, including “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin,” “The Rifleman,” “The Untouchables,” “Perry Mason,” “The Outer Limits,” “Ben Casey,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “Lost in Space,” “Bewitched,” “The Fugitive,” “The Mod Squad,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “Hawaii 5-0” and “Kojak.”
He last appeared on screen in “Long Road Home,” an independent film made in 1999, in which he played a man who unexpectedly becomes the guardian of his estranged grandson. Most recently he provided the voice of Mr. Freeze in the animated TV series “Batman” and “Batman Beyond.”
Michael Ansara was born on April 15, 1922, in a small town in Syria. His family moved to Massachusetts when he was 2 and Los Angeles when he was 10.
He studied at Los Angeles City College and originally planned to become a doctor, but changed his mind after he began studying acting at the Pasadena Playhouse in an effort to overcome shyness. He began his career onstage and made his screen debut in the 1944 thriller “Action in Arabia.”
Ansara was married three times. His first marriage, to actress Jean Byron, who would go on to play the mother on “The Patty Duke Show,” lasted from 1949 to 1956. After his divorce, the publicity department at 20th Century Fox set him up on a date with Barbara Eden. They were married in 1958.
He later appeared in a few episodes of Eden’s show, each time as a different character. The two divorced in 1973. They had one son, Matthew, who died of an accidental drug overdose in 2001.
Ansara’s survivors include his wife of 36 years, actress Beverly Kushida; and a sister, Rose Browers.
Although Cochise on “Broken Arrow” was his career-defining role, Ansara found himself frustrated by its limitations. “Cochise could do one of two things,” he once said: “stand with his arms folded, looking noble; or stand with his arms at his sides, looking noble.”