When Richard Mulligan spoke to PEOPLE last April in what proved to be one of his last interviews, he could hardly disguise his sadness. “Life now? It’s okay,” he said. “Not working a lot. I think I may be retired. No, I’m not married. I live alone. Mickey [my dog] died some time ago. I loved him so much.”
But the very private actor said nothing of his struggle with cancer, to which he succumbed on Sept. 26 at age 67. “I saw him up to a point, then he didn’t want to [see me] anymore,” says Dinah Manoff, who played one of his daughters on NBC’s Empty Nest. “He wanted to be remembered a certain way.”
Millions of viewers will remember the Bronx-born Mulligan as the flustered father of a gay stepson, played by Billy Crystal, on the groundbreaking ’70s comedy Soap. Or as widowed Dr. Harry Weston on Empty Nest from 1988 to 1995. Mulligan won Emmys for both roles. “In spite of the wonderful, offbeat things his character would do,” recalls Blake Edwards, who directed him in the 1981 big-screen comedy S.O.B., “you always felt it was real.”
So too was Mulligan’s fractious love life, which resulted in four marriages, the last in 1992 to former adult video actress Serina Robinson, his wife for only 10 months.
Under treatment for cancer for the past few years, Mulligan retired to his home in L.A. When his only son, James, 42, an attorney in Lebanon, N.H., visited, “my father would use his acting skills to energize himself,” says the younger Mulligan. “He reached into a reservoir of adrenaline.”
Finally that too gave out. Cremated with no memorial service, at his own request, Mulligan “exited the stage quietly,” says his assistant David Fisher, “and was happy to be able to do so.”