February 10, 2020 — Old-school television star Robert Conrad, a close friend of the Chicago mob’s famously-feared Spilotro brothers, died of natural causes in Malibu, California over the weekend. The 84-year old Conrad played U.S. Secret Serviceman James West, a 19th Century “James Bond on horseback,” on the hit show The Wild, Wild West for CBS in the late 1960s and became well known throughout Hollywood circles as a brawler with a quick temper and mob ties.

Being from Chicago, Conrad knew, “Outfit” tough guy Tony (The Ant) Spilotro and his younger brother and protégé Michael aka “Mickey”, who Conrad helped get into acting and score roles on major television shows. The Spilotros were slain together 34 years ago in a mob hit that has nearly reached mythological status. Conrad met Tony Spilotro, diminutive, volatile and three years his junior, in the 1950s when Spilotro was an up-and-coming mob apprentice and he was working as a longshoreman on the docks of Lake Michigan and dabbling in the Windy City’s boxing scene in the days before he jetted off to Hollywood.

Tony Spilotro, 48, ran west coast operations for the Chicago mafia from 1971 until his untimely demise in 1986 and was suspected in personally carrying out or ordering more than two dozen gangland slayings in his mob career. Mickey Spilotro, 42, owned Hoagie’s Pub back home on the city’s Westside and like his brother, was facing a federal racketeering indictment at the time he was killed.

Both Spilotros were beaten, stomped and strangled to death inside a Bensenville, Illinois basement on June 14, 1986, after Tony upset his Outfit bosses with his troublemaking behavior in Las Vegas, where he was sent to watch over the Midwest mob’s interests in the casino business and became drunk on power. It was Spilotro’s outlandish, headline-grabbing antics in Vegas that eventually got the mob kicked out of town, scores of mob dons around the country imprisoned and led to him and his brother’s brutal murders.

The FBI frequently noted Conrad visiting the Spilotros in Nevada and Illinois and agents followed the Spilotros on several occasions as they visited Conrad in California, often being present on-set for Conrad’s TV and film productions. The Spilotro brothers’ grisly execution was depicted in the 1995 film Casino, with Oscar-winner Joe Pesci playing the role of Tony the Ant. Newspaper photographers snapped photos of a teary-eyed and visibly shaken Conrad attending the Spilotros’ funeral alongside Tony’s bodyguard Herbert (Fat Herbie) Blitzstein, murdered himself in 1997 inside his Las Vegas residence.

Due to his friendship with Conrad, Mickey Spilotro was first cast as a stick up man in the 1979 NBC television mini-series The Duke, starring Conrad as a Chicago boxer-turned-private investigator, and then, ironically, as an FBI agent, on CBS’s widely-popular Magnum P.I. series starring Tom Selleck. Through Conrad, the Spilotros were close to Magnum P.I. co-star Larry Manetti.

Conrad also aided in getting Manetti his start on TV. Conrad got his own start as the lead in the ABC show, Hawaiian Eyes, which aired between 1959 and 1963. Conrad’s beloved James West character was brought to the big screen in a 1999 Will Smith-starring vehicle that failed to connect with audiences.

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