[ Editor’s note: First published on March 1, 2010. At his death in 2020, obituaries said Conrad was born in 1935. ]
Robert Conrad — tough-guy star of The Wild Wild West, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and many battery commercials — has a landmark birthday today. We’re just not sure which one it is. We think Robert Conrad is turning 75, but it turns out he may be 80.
Here’s the story: We noticed that he looks a little off-kilter in recent years, as in this photo from a Writer’s Guild party in 2006:
That’s his wife, LaVelda Fann Conrad, at center. She turns 50 this year — there seems to be no dispute about that. The IMDB claims she was born in 1960 and says, “She married Robert Conrad in 1977, when she was 17 and Robert was 46.”
Here’s Conrad on how they met:
We did a television show together. She was the reigning Miss National Teenager and was giving up her crown and she was one of the co-hosts of the show. And I saw this beautiful, beautiful young girl and that was how we met. And two years later we were married.
Did he have a stroke or some other medical disaster? Well, not exactly. Turns out he had an accident while driving drunk in 2003, one that eventually left him on probation for 5 years as well as partly paralyzed. Hence the off-kilter look.
Which brings us back to the original question. Buried at the bottom of that 2003 Associated Press story is this line:
LaVelda Conrad said her husband is 68, but court records indicate he is 73.
“Court records,” eh? Normally we would take the court’s word for it, and we’re also inclined to believe the hard-working reporters at the Associated Press. But in this case we haven’t been able (yet) to find any proof to support this. Wikipedia does claim Robert Conrad was born in 1930 but offers no citation. The IMDB claims 1929. [ 2018 update: Both Wikipedia and the IMDB have now switched to 1935. ]
On the other hand, here’s an (also unsourced) claim that Robert Conrad really was born in 1935, but lied about his age to join the Marines at age 15 during the Korean War. The Korean War started in 1950, so the timeline (at least) of that claim checks out.
Conrad also has often said that he eloped with his first wife at age 17 in 1952, which matches a 1935 birth — although any actor worth his salt would be perfectly capable of lying about such a thing. (We’re not sure whether marrying *another* 17-year-old in 1977 makes Conrad’s 1952 story more likely or less likely. But somewhere President Tyler is smiling.)
In any case, Conrad has claimed 1935 as his birth year consistently, as in this martial arts interview where he says he was 29 when he tried out for The Wild Wild West, which went on the air in 1965.
The Library of Congress also has Robert Conrad born in 1935, and they’re often a reliable source. People magazine has reported that Conrad was 43 and LaVelda 17 when they met in 1978, and that again matches up with 1935. (Would she have dated a 43-year-old but not a 48-year-old? Who can say?)
So, bottom line: We’re intrigued by the AP’s “court records” claim, but we’re sticking with 1935 until we find sturdy proof one way or the other. We’ll keep looking.
And happy birthday, Mr. Conrad, however old you are!
(Photos: George Brandon / WENN)