Despite the Oscar triumph, the critical reaction was harsh. Mr. Robertson earned praise for his tender acting, but prominent reviewers found fault with a heavy-handed script and Ralph Nelson’s directorial tics: over-reliance on still shots, slow motion, split screens and multiple images.
Mr. Robertson’s first marriage, to Cynthia Stone, ended in divorce. His later marriage to Merrill also ended in divorce. Survivors include a daughter from the first marriage, Stephanie Saunders of Charleston, S.C.; a half-brother; and a granddaughter. A daughter from the actor’s second marriage, Heather, died.
The late 1970s saw a downward trajectory for Mr. Robertson’s career. He attributed the change to having pressed for an FBI investigation into a check-forgery scheme by Columbia Pictures boss David Begelman. Begelman had forged Mr. Robertson’s name on a $10,000 check, which the actor uncovered when he received a tax statement from the studio.
To Mr. Robertson’s dismay, many in the film community rallied around Begelman, a former agent who had recently guided financially ailing Columbia to profitability.
Begelman eventually pleaded no contest to the charges and was fined $5,000. He blamed the forgeries on a drug addiction. He continued to work for many years as a production chief, including a brief period as head of MGM. He killed himself in 1995, reportedly depressed by financial reversals.
After the Begelman affair, Mr. Robertson said he was consigned to a long run of supporting roles. He portrayed Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner in “Star 80” (1983), a film about slain playmate Dorothy Stratten, and was the kindly Uncle Ben to Tobey Maguire’s webby action hero in the “Spider-Man” series in the 2000s.
Uncle Ben died in the first “Spider-Man” film, but Mr. Robertson was asked to reprise the character anyway in the sequels.
“You talk about survival,” Mr. Robertson told the Los Angeles Times in 2006. “But director Sam Raimi said, ‘I want you back.’ . . . It’s wonderful to be wanted.”