Robert Urich book getting national release in Toronto

THS 1964 CLASSMATES — Carolyn Motter Walker, president of the Historical Society of Toronto, stands outside the Main Street Museum at 210 Main St., Toronto, where there is a special display promoting the national release Aug. 31 of author Joe Martelle’s authorized biography of Toronto native son Robert Urich. Martelle will be at the museum that day from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. for a book signing of “The Robert Urich Story — An Extraordinary Life.” Urich enjoyed a lengthy and successful acting career before his death in 2002 from a rare form of cancer. Walker and Urich graduated from Toronto High School in 1964. -- Janice Kiaski

TORONTO — Carolyn Motter Walker, president of the Historical Society of Toronto, remembers fellow classmate Robert “Bob” Urich as someone very special.

The two graduated from Toronto High School in 1964, and Urich was just as nice a guy growing up in the Gem City as he was when he returned to his roots, after having gone on to acting fame in Hollywood.

As Toronto prepares for a Labor Day weekend packed with people attending the seventh Toronto High School All-School Reunion weekend and the 42nd-annual Toronto Art Festival, Urich’s memory will be very much alive.

On Aug. 31, author Joe Martelle will be in town for the official national release of “The Robert Urich Story — An Extraordinary Life.” The launch of the authorized biography and book signing will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Main Street Museum located at 210 Main St.

The book contains more than 500 pages and more than 140 photos, many seen for the first time outside the Urich family circle. Available in hard cover or softbound, it sells for $42 and $32, respectively, and will be on sale that day at the museum, according to Walker, who can be contacted for information on getting the book at (740) 632-6708 or fcwalker@sbcglobal.net.

Martelle and his wife, Kim, will be joined by members of Urich’s family, including Urich’s son, Dr. Ryan Urich.

Toronto City Council passed a resolution proclaiming the Labor Day weekend as Robert Urich Weekend in honor of its native son and the launch of the book by Martelle, who lives in western Colorado and was a popular radio and television air personality for 41 years, becoming one of Boston’s most beloved and popular radio personalities. Urich was filming his television series “Spenser: For Hire” when he was a guest on Martelle’s top-rated radio show in Boston, a springboard for the two becoming fast friends and remaining in touch over the years, according to promotional material about the book.

It describes the book as the first and only authorized biography of Urich’s life and prolific acting career. He starred in a record-setting 16 television series, including “S.W.A.T,” “Vega$,” “Spenser: For Hire” and the award-winning western mini-series, “Lonesome Dove.” Urich also starred in 55 films and on Broadway in the role of Billy Flynn in “Chicago the Musical.”

“Bob’s wife, Heather, provided so much personal info,” Martelle is quoted in a press release. “She allowed me unprecedented access to her husband’s journal. I never could have written an accurate story without her help.”

The book spans his childhood and football scholarship to Florida State through a successful 30-year acting career in what’s described as more than just a celebrity story but a moving tribute as well to Urich’s long battle with a rare form of cancer, synovial cell sarcoma.

“When Bob was first diagnosed with cancer at age 49 in July 1996,” Martelle notes, “his self-deprecating humor helped carry him through some rough times. He often joked, ‘Leave it to me. Do I get the type of cancer like everyone else? Oh no! I have to get a rare type.'”

Urich would become a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society, traveling across America and encouraging others fighting their own disease never to quit or give up hope of finding a cure.

“Drawing from his Catholic faith and belief in God, Urich fondly described his talks as preaching the Gospel of Survival. Quite often his speaking engagements were held only hours following his own treatment that same day,” promotional material notes.

Urich, who shunned the celebrity spotlight and preferred the company of family and friends, was 55 when he died on April 16, 2002. His wife died in 2017 of brain cancer.

Martelle devoted more than four years to doing interviews with Urich’s family, high school and college classmates, friends and co-workers.

Walker was among them and would ultimately suggest he launch the book when the THS All-School Reunion was being held.

Walker has helped plan her Class of 1964 reunions since the first one. “We have had one every five years since we graduated,” she said. “My job is to keep track of everybody, and 55 years later, we know where everyone is. They may not respond, but we know where they’re at,” she said.

“Somehow, the author talked to somebody and ended up calling me, and I sent him the list,” Walker said, explaining she has been in contact with Martelle over the past three years anyway, helping direct him, for instance, to whom Urich would have played high school football with.

“I sent a box of stuff. I sent him a cookbook and things that were strictly Toronto,” Walker said. “He wanted that Toronto angle. He knew Bob completely different, from Boston as a performer, as a friend and neighbor, he knew him like that, and, of course, I knew him and all the people I’m referring him to from our growing up years, so he puts it all together,” she said.

“He wants to talk with people even though the book is done,” Walker said.

“He was a nice guy,” Walker said of Urich. “He was always kind. He never had a raised voice — now probably when you talk to some of his football buddies, they would have a different opinion, but everybody that I ever knew, that was his thing,” she said.

“We actually were in the senior class play,” said. It was “Don’t Take My Penny.”

“We had to work our play schedule around from football to basketball because it was in the fall of the year, and he was in both, so it was like, we can’t have play practice at this time, because they have basketball practice, but he was just a really nice guy,” Walker said.

Fame didn’t change that either.

“When he would come back, he was just the same,” Walker said. “He and his wife started a scholarship at the high school, one of those early ones before we ever had an alumni association or anything, and they would give a thousand a year to someone going into the arts,” Walker said, noting her daughter Brenda was the recipient of one.

“We were so proud of it,” Walker said, noting she introduced her daughter to Urich in 1990 when he returned to Toronto for what was the first year of the all-school reunion and the 25-year class reunion as well.

“He was just a gracious, nice guy. A guy you’d want to know,” Walker said.

It would be the last time she would see him before his death.

“He didn’t come back for our next reunion and then he was gone, but I have videos of him at our class reunion, talking to everybody, just fitting in like everybody else,” she said, noting the museum has a special Urich display.

It will be open during the Labor Day weekend from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 30; from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 31; and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sept. 1.

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)

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