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Ralph Waite, a veteran television actor who starred on The Waltons, has died. He was 85 years old.
Waite died Thursday afternoon at his South Palm Desert home, family accountant Steve Gordon told The Hollywood Reporter.
The actor played the beloved father figure on The Waltons, John Walton, and earned a 1978 Emmy nomination for his role. He played the character for nine years and sat in the director’s seat for 15 episodes.
“Ralph was a good honest actor and a good honest man,” Waltons actress Michael Learned told THR. “He was my spiritual husband. We loved each other for over forty 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. I'm devastated.”
Waite was relatively inexperienced in television before being cast in The Waltons, as it was only his second TV gig. He did earn an Emmy nomination for his role in the acclaimed miniseries Roots. As The BBC notes, he did appear on the big screen in Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman and in Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson.
“I am devastated to announce the loss of my precious 'papa' Walton,” Mary McDonough, who played Erin Walton, said. “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.”
Waite continued acting until his death. He had a recurring role on NBC’s Days of Our Lives as Father Riggin and also appeared on NCIS and Bones recently.
The actor was born on June 22, 1928, in New York and was an ordained minister and social worker before turning to acting. He also unsuccessfully ran for congressional office twice.
image: Wikimedia Commons