Dick Van Patten, 'Eight Is Enough' Star, Dies at 86

Dick Van Patten - H - 2015
Associated Press

The actor, one of TV's 'Greatest Dads,' began on Broadway at age 7 and was a regular in films from Disney and Mel Brooks.

Dick Van Patten, who played the family patriarch on the ABC series Eight Is Enough, has died, his publicist Jeff Ballard confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 86.

The soft-spoken actor died Tuesday morning at Saint John's Hospital in Santa Monica due to complications from diabetes. 

"He was the kindest man you could ever meet in life. A loving family man. They don't make them like him anymore," Ballard said in a statement. 

Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Pat, a former June Taylor Dancer; sons NelsJimmy and Vincent, sister Joyce Van Patten and niece Talia Balsam, all actors; and his half-brother, Emmy-winning director Tim Van Patten.

Van Patten's Eight Is Enough character Tom Bradford was named No. 33 in TV Guide's list of the “50 Greatest Dads of All Time” in 2004, and his 2009 autobiography was titled Eighty Is Not Enough.

Eight Is Enough, an hourlong comedy-drama about a family with eight kids, ran for five seasons on ABC, from 1977 to 1981. His character played a columnist for a Sacramento newspaper (the show was based on the life of a real newspaperman), and the series spawned a couple of reunion telefilms.

"Before Eight Is Enough, there was Father Knows Best, all goody, goody, goody," Van Patten recalled in a 2011 interview with the Archive of American Television. "On Eight Is Enough, we dealt with real problems."

Willie Aames, who played son Tommy Bradford on the show, told The Hollywood Reporter that Van Patten was “the most sincere person I’d ever worked with.”

Added Aames: “I remember he’d tell us often before shooting a scene, he’d have that smile on the face — ‘I want you all to look around and remember this time. These are the good old days. These are great days. So enjoy them.’ He was the leader of our show.”

In his seven-decade career, Van Patten appeared in all media: on the stage, radio (in more than 600 shows), TV and films. He was seen in the Mel Brooks comedies High Anxiety (1977), Spaceballs (1987) and Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), and he portrayed Friar Tuck on a Brooks sitcom, When Things Were Rotten.

A Disney regular, he also starred in such family films as Superdad (1973), The Strongest Man in the World (1975), The Shaggy D.A. (1976), Gus (1976) and Freaky Friday (1976).

More recently, Van Patten appeared on such TV series as Arrested Development, The Sarah Silverman Program, That 70’s Show and Hot in Cleveland.

Van Patten was born Dec. 9 1928, in Queens, New York. He attended the Professional Children’s School and began his show business career as “Dickie Van Patten,” child actor. He made his Broadway debut at age 7, playing the son of Melvyn Douglas in Tapestry in Gray.

He followed that with The Eternal Road at the Manhattan Opera House in 1937, then was cast in George S. Kaufman's The American Way, which ran for two years and starred Fredric March. He was cast in another Kaufman comedy, The Land Is Bright.
In 1946, after winning a competition with more than 1,000 other young actors, Van Patten garnered a coveted role in O Mistress Mine, which starred Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. He appeared in more than 25 plays on Broadway, many while he was still a teenager.
While in New York, he also worked in soaps such as Young Doctor Malone (he had a rare turn as a villain), and his first major TV role was that of son Nels in the CBS series I Remember Mama, which starred Peggy Wood. (On Mama, James Dean replaced him for a time when Van Patten was called into the military.)
He came to Los Angeles in 1970, appearing at the Mark Taper Forum in the Elaine May-directed Adaptation Next, and grabbed roles in two short-lived TV series, CBS’ Arnie, starring Herschel Bernardi, and NBC’s The Partners, with Don Adams. He later worked as a regular on The New Dick Van Dyke Show and The Love Boat.
The likable Van Patten proved to be a popular guest-star performer, beginning with a turn in the saddle on Rawhide in 1959 and including such shows as The Rookies, Cannon, Banyon, MaudeLove, American Style, S.W.A.T.Happy Days, Barnaby Jones, McMillan and Wife, The Streets of San Francisco and Baywatch
His other film credits include Charly (1968), Making It (1971), Joe Kidd (1972), Dirty Little Billy (1972), Westworld (1973), Soylent Green (1973) and Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003), and he appeared in Weird Al Yankovic’s “Smells Like Nirvana” and “Bedrock Anthem” music videos.

Van Patten in 1989 helped launch a holistic pet food line, Natural Balance Pet Foods, and he founded National Guide Dog Month, which began in 2008 to raise awareness and money for nonprofit guide dog schools in the U.S.
He also owned thoroughbreds and was a big fan of horse racing, going to Santa Anita Park and the other local tracks with Brooks and other pals.
Actress Renee Taylor, a friend of Van Patten’s for more than 50 years, told THR that the actor put aside an amount each week to potentially lose at the track. She asked his wife how she could put up with that.

“I get to buy the same amount in jewelry,” Pat said.

One time, Van Patten encouraged Taylor and her husband, actor Joe Bologna, to wager on what he considered to be a sure thing. “You have got to mortgage your house on this one, he’s that good!" she recalled Van Patten telling her. "I told Joe, 'I guess we have to put something on him.' Well, Joe bet $20, and the horse came in last.

"So what did he say? 'Renee, that’s horse racing.' ”

Twitter: @mikebarnes4
Update 12:01 p.m. Tuesday: Adding reaction from actress Renee Taylor.
Update 1:05 p.m. Tuesday: Adding reaction from actor Willie Aames.