BERLIN, Dec 13th (Reuters) - German actor Horst Tappert, Inspector Derrick in a television detective series broadcast in 108 countries, has died in Munich at the age of 85, his wife said on Monday.
Tappert's portrayal of Stefan Derrick, a wise and mild-mannered Munich inspector who trapped criminals with his brains instead of bullets, was an unlikely export hit for Germany's ZDF television network and made him a cult figure.
"Derrick" was broadcast from 1974 to 1998 and there were 281 episodes, translated into 12 languages. Tappert, a towering man and impeccably dressed detective, and his side-kick Harry, played by Fritz Wepper, always got the better of the bad guys.
"It's sad but he had an exciting life," his wife Ursula told the online edition of Bunte magazine on Monday. Tappert had long suffered from a diabetes ailment and died in a Munich hospital on Saturday, she said.
"My husband was well and in high spirits until recently. But in the last few days his condition visibly worsened."
Tappert was born on May 26, 1923, in Wuppertal in western Germany. He applied for a sales job at a theater in Stendal, west of Berlin, in 1945. But the sales director was not there that day so Tappert talked to the artistic director instead -- and got his first job as an actor.
In 1973, after 27 roles in German theatres and appearances in 43 local films, Tappert got the part that made him famous in Germany and his face known around the world. The show was a big success in Japan, Italy, South America, Iran and China.
Pope John Paul was a fan and Tappert met the Pope in 1999.
Tappert turned in his badge in 1998 -- at the age of 75.
"I don't think it would have been very funny while shooting a possible 350th or 380th 'Derrick' episode for me to collapse in front of the camera -- even though there was no gangster firing shots at me," he said jokingly.
Tappert also made fun of a hairpiece he wore.
"I was getting tired of having to decide each morning which of four different toupees to wear," Tappert said, when asked why he was quitting.
Despite his fame, Tappert lived a quiet life in Munich.
"I live the life of a recluse," Tappert said in his last interview, on the occasion of his 85th birthday in May, to Bunte, Germany's top celebrity magazine. "I don't like to make a big fuss but I enjoy the quiet life with my wife."
Editing by Keith Weir