By FRAZIER MOORE
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Dick Van Patten, the genial, round-faced comic actor who premiered on Broadway as a child, starred on television in its infancy and then, in middle age, found lasting fame as the patriarch on TV’s “Eight is Enough,” has died.
Van Patten died Tuesday in Santa Monica, California, of complications from diabetes, said his publicist, Daniel Bernstein. He was 86.
Born in New York, the veteran entertainer began his career as a model and child actor, making his Broadway debut in 1935 at the age of seven, billed as “Dickie Van Patten.” He would go on to appear in 27 other Broadway plays, acting alongside such giants as Melvyn Douglas, Tallulah Bankhead and, for three years, as the son of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in “O Mistress Mine.”
In 1949, he began a seven-year run on one of TV’s earliest series, the CBS comedy “Mama,” playing one of the sons of a Norwegian-American family in early 1900s San Francisco.
Van Patten’s greatest TV success was as Tom Bradford, a widower and father of eight who met and married Abby (played by Betty Buckley), with whom he set up a loving if chaotic household. The ABC comedy-drama aired from 1977-1981.
“Every day on set he was a happy, jovial person, always generous and ready to play, tease and always keep us all laughing,” said Buckley. “He was the consummate professional, a wonderful actor, master of comedy, and a kind and generous human being.”
“He was truly a gem and will be missed,” tweeted Willie Aames, who, now 54, played the Bradford son Tommy on the series, which launched him as a teen heart-throb. “As Dick always said: Remember our time together gang… Cause these ARE the good ole’ days.”
Van Patten’s many other TV appearances included “Sanford and Son,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “Adam-12,” “Happy Days,” “The Love Boat,” “Touched By An Angel,” “Arrested Development” and, most recently, “Hot in Cleveland.”
Film projects included “Spaceballs,” “High Anxiety,” the original “Freaky Friday” (starring Jodie Foster), “The Santa Trap” and “Soylent Green.”
Van Patten was a serious poker player and a commentator for the World Poker Tour. It was a natural offshoot for him as an actor trading on what he called the “bluff factor — as an actor, you thrive on that, to defy the odds,” he said in a 2007 interview.
An animal enthusiast, he co-founded Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods in 1989 as well as founding National Guide Dog Month, which began in 2008 to raise awareness and money for nonprofit guide dog schools in the United States.
In a 2003 interview with The Associated Press, he explained that his love of animals was born while growing up in New York:
“If I was good each week, my father would take me to a different pet store each Saturday,” he said. “I had a snake, horny toads, turtles, lizards, rabbits, guinea pigs. … I kept my alligator in the bathtub until it got too big.
“We didn’t take a bath for years,” he joked.
He is survived by his three actor sons — Nels, Jimmy and Vincent — as well as Patricia Van Patten, his wife of 62 years (and a former June Taylor Dancer) whom he first met, and fell for, at age 14 when seated next to her in class at their professional children’s school.
This story has been corrected to show that “Eight Is Enough” aired from 1977-1981.
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