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Ralph Waite, Dad of ‘The Waltons,’ Dies at 85

Joal Ryan
Joal Ryan
February 14, 2014

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Ralph Waite, who played the patriach of Walton's Mountain on the long-running family drama "The Waltons," and appeared as the father of Mark Harmon's Jethro Gibbs on "NCIS," has died. He passed away midday Thursday in his South Palm Desert home, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed through Steve Gordon, the Waite family's accountant. Waite was 85.

He spent nine seasons as the dad of a rural Depression-era family on CBS's beloved family drama. "The Waltons" was a Top 20 hit in the mid-1970s, and is fondly remembered for the family's heartfelt good-night routine: "Good night, John-Boy."

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Waite was nominated for one Primetime Emmy for his role as John Walton on the 1972-1981 series.

The New York-born actor also starred in the movies "Cool Hand Luke" and "Five Easy Pieces," among numerous other screen credits. He also appeared on Broadway, and earned a second career Emmy nomination for his work as a slave ship's third mate in the landmark 1977 TV miniseries, "Roots." His other TV roles include "Murder One," "Carnivàle," and "Bonanza."

Waite once said he was — and wasn't — like John Walton, the father of seven who perservered through the Great Depression with a sawmill, work shirts and suspenders, and a steady presence.

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"There is something in me that propels me to guide and help others," Waite said. "But the other side of my being is a driving, conceited person with a big ego — a person who wants a career and needs success."

Waite battled alcoholism for years until shortly after he began work on "The Waltons." "If they had taken attendance for my life," Waite said, "I'd have been marked absent."

Waite, who was TV's second John Walton after Andrew Duggan, who played the father figure in the series-spawning TV-movie, "The Homecoming," returned to Walton's Mountain for reunion movies in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1998, Waite unsuccessfully ran for Congress. He lost to Mary Bono, the widow of singer/songwriter Sonny Bono, who previously had held the seat.

Starting in 2008, Waite handled the recurring character Jackson Gibbs on the hit police-procedural "NCIS." He also appeared as the grandfather of David Boreanaz's character on "Bones," and on "Days of Our Lives" as Father Matt.

Watch a clip from "The Waltons":

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