Dick Van Patten, congenial actor, whose calming presence and everyman looks endeared him to a career in Hollywood which included playing character actors and sometimes leading roles, arguably the most remembered of which was the loving and fair dad on the light dramedy Eight is Enough, has died of complications from diabetes at the age of 86 in Santa Monica, California.
There seemed to be an ease about gazing at Van Patten on the small and big screen, no matter what the role or genre he appeared in. Starting his career on Broadway back in 1935, Van Patten had appeared on one of television’s very first long running programs once that medium began to flourish, titled Mama, back in 1949. It led to countless appearances on the small and large screen thereafter, especially during the 1970s, with a resume that almost resembled an A to Z of TV during that era including appearances on programs as diverse as Sanford and Son, Banacek, The Streets of San Francisco, Cannon, Emergency!, and Happy Days to name but a scant few.
But it was as the patriarch on the program Eight is Enough in which Van Patten might be most remembered. As Tom Bradford, a newspaper columnist for a fictional newspaper in Sacramento, California and father of eight children, the show was almost akin to a more “adult” version of The Brady Bunch, but without the kind of purposeful camp value that that program purported. Eight is Enough tackled more adult themes, and found an audience that in essence were mostly full of a demographic who were younger when The Brady Bunch was originally broadcast, and was now more grown up. Airing from 1977 to 1981, Eight is Enough is still remembered as one of the benchmark programs of its time, a true zeitgeist of a unique era in television.
Van Patten’s movie work was also eclectic and diverse and a highlight had been his appearances playing a sundry amount of crazy characters in a string of films with comedy maverick Mel Brooks, including High Anxiety, Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. He had also appeared in the dystopian science-fiction classic Soylent Green, with Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson, in 1973.
An animal lover, Van Patten also raised awareness for dog schools around the country and even co-founded a pet food brand. The bloodline of talent in Van Patten’s family also extended to his younger sister Joyce, who is an actress, and his half-brother Tim Van Patten, who is an Emmy-winning film director who helmed such highly lauded programs as The Sopranos. Van Patten had been married for 61 years and his three sons were also in the entertainment business.
Even though his work output slowed down in recent years, Dick Van Patten had remained a viable face and force in the history of the entertainment medium. With his everyman look and style, which almost resembled that of a kind old uncle that everyone has in their family. Like an elder statesman whose disarming presence easily could defuse the most hard-nosed and cynical human being, Dick Van Patten had a charm in how he parlayed himself, which is almost non-existent in today’s entertainment day and age.
He leaves behind a legacy and mark in the entertainment industry, and will be missed by countless fans of him and the projects he appeared in, from coast-to-coast.