July 21, 1998 12:00 AM

Actor Richard Mulligan, 67, who starred on TV’s “Soap” and “Empty Nest” and played the memorably batty movie director (who made Julie Andrews go topless) in the 1981 Hollywood lampoon “S.O.B.,” died in his Southern California home on Tuesday after a lengthy battle with cancer, his publicist announced. The lanky Mulligan, who was married and divorced four times, had been in show business for nearly four decades. A native of the Bronx, his first aspiration was to have been a priest, but he changed directions when he studied playwriting at New York’s Columbia University. He got the acting bug when he took his first play to a theater in Florida, where the director told him to try out the leading role himself. From 1977-81, Mulligan played Burt Campbell, the stepfather to the Billy Crystal character on the satirical “Soap,” and from 1988-95 he was Dr. Harry Weston, a widower with three grown daughters, on “Empty Nest.” Both portrayals won him Emmys.

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