Ralph Waite, best known to television audiences as the patriarch of the household on the 1970s CBS-TV series The Waltons, has died, according to the New York Times. He was 85. No cause of death was reported.
With his big hearted, weathered yet tender and reassuring demeanor, Waite’s character of John Sr. was the rock in the sea of trials and tribulations on The Waltons, and the presence of Waite’s performance gave a kind of father figure to everyone on the show as well, something that no doubt was probably felt by the actors when filming the program.
The Waltons, a rural drama which took place during the Depression Era, inexplicably became one of the most successful television programs of the 1970s. CBS had only just cancelled all of its rural sitcoms earlier the year prior to The Waltons 1972 debut, yet still took a change on the new show. In a sea of television at the time that was borderlining on bold-faced reality, especially in its presentation of sitcoms (All in the Family, MASH, Mary Tyler Moore), The Waltons was much-needed escapism for a weary American public, caught at the time in the web of Watergate and Vietnam. A large cast, headed by Waite, kept the program sure-footed and interesting each week. Waite had also helmed the directorial chair for a few episodes during his tenure with the series, which lasted six seasons.
Aside from career on the big and small screens, Waite, who resided in Palm Desert, CA, with this third wife Linda East (whom he married in 1982), also unsuccessfully ran for Congress in California as a Democrat three times, losing twice to Mary Bono, who won husband Sonny Bono’s congressional seat twice after his death. Before turning to actor in his 30s, the White Plains, NY native served two years in U.S. Marine Corps, then went on to earn his Bachelor’s Degree from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA (through the GI Bill), and a Master’s Degree from Yale University Divinity School. He at various times worked as a social worker, Presbyterian minister, and religious editor at Harper & Row. He then turned to acting, where he started out in Broadway and off-Broadway productions.
Waite’s career stretched to film, like Cool Hand Luke, Five Easy Pieces, and the 1993 Sylvester Stallone action-thriller Cliffhanger, as well as other television programs, such as the acclaimed telefilm Roots, where he played against type as the first mate on a slave ship; the crime drama NCIS (as Mark Harmon’s father); HBO’s surreal drama Carnivale; and from 2009 to the present has had the recurring role of the beloved Father Matt on the NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives.
With The Waltons having staked its claim in television history, there’s also a firm seat for the legacy and career achievements of Ralph Waite as well.
RIP Ralph Waite
June 22, 1928 – February 13, 2014
[Source: The New York Times]