Bewitched—and Bothered

updated 07/25/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/25/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

FEW GAY PERSONALITIES EVER EMERGED from the closet quite as dramatically as Dick Sargent. From 1969 to 1972, the trimly handsome actor had established himself as "the second Darrin" after replacing Dick York as Elizabeth Montgomery's husband on the ABC sitcom Bewitched. Realizing that revealing his homosexuality could wreck his career, he posed with buxom actresses for magazine spreads and even added a phony failed marriage to his publicity bio.

But three years ago, Sargent, who died of prostate cancer at 64 on July 8, grew tired of pretending. Incensed by Gov. Pete Wilson's decision to veto California's gay-rights bill, Sargent declared his sexuality before a sizable Hollywood gathering on National Coming Out Day. "It was such a relief," he said afterward. "It was like a healing. Now," he joked, "I'm a retroactive role model."

Born Richard Cox in Carmel, Calif. (his mother was a former silent-film actress; his father, a World War I hero and a Hollywood publicist), Sargent made, he later admitted, "a couple of good college tries at suicide" at Stanford. He drifted into movies, then got his break in Bewitched, which left him financially independent.

When he learned he had cancer in 1989, Sargent stayed involved in gay-rights issues. His lover for the past four years was Albert Williams, 36, a writer and producer who says Sargent "faced death like a champion. He knew he was going to die and tried to keep everyone's spirits up." Five days before his death, Sargent threw his annual Fourth of July bash at his house atop the Hollywood Hills. Throughout his illness, Elizabeth Montgomery was a constant visitor. "He was a great friend," she said. "I will miss his love, his sense of humor and his courage."

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