Goodnight Papa Walton: Ralph Waite, star of ‘The Waltons,’ dies at 85

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Ralph Waite, who played the much beloved father, John Walton Sr., in the long-running, family-friendly show “The Waltons,” has died. He was 85.

Ralph was a good honest actor and a good honest man,” said Michael Learned, the actress who played his wife, Olivia, in the series, CNN reported. “He was my spiritual husband. We loved each other for over 40 years. He died a working actor at the top of his game.”

She also called him a “loving mentor” who served as a “role model” for a generation, BBC reported.

He lived in California and died Thursday, his manager confirmed to The Associated Press.

In addition to being an actor, Mr. Waite was an ordained Presbyterian minister — a humorous cross to his onscreen role on “The Waltons,” who rarely attended church.

By contrast, he recently acted in the soap-opera “Days of Our Lives” as Father Matt Riggin and on “NCIS” as the lead character’s father, Jackson Gibbs.

He was also a social worker and former Marine, who first went into acting in the early 1960s. One of his early roles was in the Broadway production “Hogan’s Goat,” where he starred with Faye Dunaway, BBC reported.

In later roles, he worked with Paul Newman and Jack Nicholson in such movies as “Cool Hand Luke” and “Five Easy Pieces.” His role on “The Waltons,” starting in 1972, shot him into national — and even international — fame, however. That’s where he played a mid-40s father of seven living in Depression-era times in rural Virginia.

The show delivered family friendly messages, based on subtle and not-so-subtle biblical principles, and ran for nine seasons.

“I am devastated to announce the loss of my precious ‘papa,’ Walton,” said Mary McDonough, who played his daughter, Erin Walton, BBC reported. “I loved him so much. I know he was so special to all of us. He was like a real father to me. Goodnight Daddy. I love you.”

One of the show’s most iconic moments was its ending — when the camera would pan on the nighttime home and family members’ voices could be heard telling each other goodnight.

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