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Mr. Gavin with Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." Credit

Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

John Gavin, a strikingly handsome Hollywood actor who played romantic leads in the 1950s and ′60s and was the Reagan administration's ambassador to Mexico for five years, a rocky tenure notable for its diplomatic controversies, died on Friday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 86.

His death was confirmed by Budd Burton Moss, Mr. Gavin's former agent and the manager of Mr. Gavin's wife, the singer and actress Constance Towers. He did not specify a cause but said Mr. Gavin had been ill for months.

They took one look at Mr. Gavin at Universal-International Pictures and saw the next Rock Hudson. Tall, dark-eyed, with a mellow baritone voice and the face of a heartbreaker, he was cast opposite leading actresses - Lana Turner in "Imitation of Life" (1959), Sophia Loren in "A Breath of Scandal" (1960), Susan Hayward in "Back Street" (1961) and Katharine Hepburn in "The Madwoman of Chaillot" (1969).

But in a score of films, including parts as Janet Leigh's lover in Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Psycho" (1960), Julius Caesar in "Spartacus" (1960) and Julie Andrews's singing boss in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967), critics often found his performances wooden, and he achieved only modest success.


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