Dean Jones, Star of Classic Disney Family Films, Dies at 84

AP
Dean Jones

He stood out in such comic fare as 'That Darn Cat!,' 'The Love Bug' and 'The Shaggy D.A.' and was in the original cast of Sondheim's 'Company' on Broadway.

Dean Jones, the affable actor who starred in such classic Disney family comedies as That Darn Cat!, The Love Bug and The Shaggy D.A., has died. He was 84.

Jones died Tuesday of complications from Parkinson’s disease in Los Angeles, publicist Richard Hoffman announced.

Jones’ film grosses exceeded $960 million, Hoffman noted. The actor was inducted into the Disney Legends Hall of Fame in 1995.

A leading man with a light comic touch, Jones also appeared in the Disney films The Million Dollar Duck (1971), Snowball Express (1972) and the sequel Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977) — as well as in the CBS series that it spawned — and in another family classic, Beethoven (1992), for Universal.

Jones made his Disney debut as an FBI agent in That Darn Cat! (1965), about a wily Siamese who help bring bank robbers to justice. (Jones had a cameo in the 1997 remake).

For The Love Bug (1968), Jones played a down-on-his-luck race car driver who buys a Volkwagen Beetle, which he names Herbie. The car has unexpected speed — and intelligence to boot. Disney remade that film too, with Bruce Campbell as the car racer, and Jones returned to narrate the 1997 version.

In The Shaggy D.A. (1976), a sequel to 1959's The Shaggy Dog, Jones portrays a grown-up Wilby Daniels, now a successful attorney who turns into a dog. As the poster says, "He’s the Only Candidate With a Law Degree and a Pedigree!"

Born Dean Carroll Jones on Jan. 25, 1931, in Decatur, Alabama, Jones served in the Navy during the Korean War and attended Asbury University in Kentucky. He started his career as the host of a local Alabama radio show, Dean Jones Sings, and as a producer of stage shows.

Signed by MGM, Jones made his film debut opposite Paul Newman in the boxing film Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), and Jailhouse Rock (1957) with Elvis Presley soon followed.

Jones bowed on Broadway in There Was A Little Girl opposite Jane Fonda in 1960 and was in Under The Yum-Yum Tree in the same year. He originated the role of Bobby in Harold Prince and Stephen Sondheim’s Company in 1970 and toured as Cap’n Andy in the national tour of Prince’s Showboat.

He also toured in the one-man play, St. John in Exile, directed by Dan Curtis (War and Remembrance). 

Jones’ films also include Never So Few (1959), the movie version of Under the Yum-Yum Tree (1963), The New Interns (1964), Any Wednesday (1966), Other People’s Money (1991) and Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger (1994).

On television, he played the title character, a prankster on a naval destroyer, in NBC's 1962-63 comedy Ensign O'Toole.

In a 1998 interview, Jones said he might have been noticed by Disney execs because The Wonderful World of Disney followed Ensign O’Toole on NBC on Sunday nights. Jones did That Darn Cat! and 10 Disney movies in all.

“I think it was because of the success of the films I was doing there that they had me do more and more,” he said. “I think if I had a big flop, that probably it would have ended the string at Disney, but it didn’t! Every film was a success.”

Survivors include his wife of 42 years, writer Lory Basham Jones; children CarolineDeanna and Michael; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Jones founded the Christian Rescue Committee (now Christian Rescue Fund), an organization that provides a way of escape to those persecuted for their faith. His other charitable activities included international child-care and world hunger.

A memorial service will be scheduled. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to Christian Rescue Fund c/o Jubilee Campaign USA, 9689-C Main St., Fairfax, VA 22150. 

Twitter: @mikebarnes4

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