Ralph Waite, who played the kind-and-steady patriarch of a tight-knit rural Southern family on the TV series The Waltons, died on Thursday, his manager said. He was 85.
Waite, who lived in the Palm Springs area, died at midday, manager Alan Mills said. Mills, who did not know the cause of death, said he was taken aback because Waite had been in good health and was still working.
Waite appeared last year in episodes of the series NCIS, in which he played the dad of star Mark Harmon’s character. He also appeared in Bones and Days of Our Lives.
The Waltons, which aired in the US from 1972 to 1981, starred Waite as John Walton, and Richard Thomas played his oldest son, John-Boy, an aspiring novelist. The family drama was set in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia.
His co-stars praised both the actor and the man. “I am devastated to announce the loss of my precious ‘papa’ Walton, Ralph Waite,” said Mary McDonough, who played daughter Erin Walton. “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.”
Michael Learned, who played wife Olivia Walton, said she was “devastated”. “He was my spiritual husband,” Learned said. “We loved each other for over 40 years. He died a working actor at the top of his game. He was a loving mentor to many and a role model to an entire generation.”
Waite, a native of White Plains, New York, served in the Marines before going to college, first at Bucknell University and then earning a master’s degree from Yale University Divinity School.
He became an ordained Presbyterian minister and then worked at a publishing house, before falling under the spell of acting.
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