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Less than a year after the October 2009 publication of his memoir, Eighty is Not Enough: One Actor’s Journey Through American Entertainment, Dick Van Patten sat down for an interview with Palm Springs Life and revealed why he opted not to keep the tome’s profits.
“They were going to sell my book. I felt really chintzy, demeaning about it, so I donated the money to Guide Dogs. It made me feel much better,” he told the publication, referring to a cause close to his heart. (He founded National Guide Dog Month in 2008 to help raise awareness and funds for nonprofit guide dog schools across the U.S.)
There’s no doubt that Van Patten, who passed away due to complications from diabetes on June 23 in Santa Monica at the age of 86, will be remembered for his work on such beloved shows like Eight is Enough, but his acting legacy will be matched by his charitable efforts and the empire he built in the pet food business as the co-founder of Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods.
Van Patten partnered with Joey Herrick in 1989 to launch Natural Balance, which succeeded in the competitive animal food industry due to a philosophy of a limited ingredient diet and by providing quality food free of artificial flavors, colors and bleached ingredients. “We wanted a pet food based on sound scientific principles and truth, not marketing hype,” Van Patten has said of his company, which was also bolstered by the expansion of Petco stores nationwide.
In May 2013, Natural Balance, headquartered in Burbank, was purchased for $337.5 million by Del Monte, the company behind such well-known pet foods as Kibbles ‘n Bits and Meow Mix. The parties never disclosed how much Van Patten made from the merger, if anything, though at the time of his death some estimated the actor was worth about $30 million. In February 2014, Del Monte changed its name to Big Heart Pet Brands and a year later the entire company was acquired by J.M. Smucker.
“As a co-founder, Mr. Van Patten has been an integral part of [Natural Balance] for over 26 years. Though he was not involved in its day-to-day operations, Dick supported the brand — and our core values — at every step of our journey,” said a rep for Big Heart Pet Brands.
Natural Balance is best known for its catalog of dog and cat food varieties, but Natural Balance also developed “Zoological Formulas” that have been used to feed carnivores, birds of prey, reptiles and others. (Natural Balance reportedly provided food for the animals at Michael Jackson‘s Neverland Ranch.)
The pet food business was a dream come true for tennis and poker aficionado Van Patten, who had revealed in various interviews that as a kid, he always wanted to have a pet shop thanks to his childhood pets like toads, turtles, chameleons, snakes and rabbits. (He also famously owned an alligator, Oscar, who he donated to the Central Park Zoo).
“Mr. Van Patten was — in many ways — America’s Dad. But we at Natural Balance know that he was also a father figure to America’s pets,” reads a statement from Natural Balance about Van Patten’s passing. “Mr. Van Patten was a passionate animal advocate who believed that it is our inherent responsibility to help animals everywhere. He actively supported many Guide Dog schools around the country, and his advocacy has helped them to raise millions of dollars.”
The company’s statement concludes: “His deep commitment to support pet charities through his “Help me help animals” philosophy will also live on through Natural Balance. He has made an indelible mark on the Natural Balance community. He can never be replaced and will continue to inspire us in all that we do.”
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