Ralph Waite, a hard-working actor best known for his role as the father on CBS’ hit drama “The Waltons” during the 1970s but more recently seen in recurring roles on “NCIS,” “Bones” and “Days of Our Lives,” died Thursday in Palm Desert, Calif. He was 85.
Waite was nominated for two Emmys, one for his role as John Walton Sr. on “The Waltons” in 1978 and another for his role in the miniseries “Roots” the previous year.
The actor appeared on “The Waltons” during its entire run from 1972-81 as well as in a number of “Waltons” telepics that followed. He also directed 16 episodes of the series.
Waite also appeared in a number of feature films, including classics “Cool Hand Luke” in 1967 and “Five Easy Pieces” in 1970, as well as several in the early 1970s including “Chato’s Land,” “The Magnificent Seven Ride!” and “The Stone Killer” before settling in with “The Waltons.” More recently he appeared in Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston vehicle “The Bodyguard” in 1992, Sylvester Stallone vehicle “Cliffhanger” in 1993, “Sioux City” in 1994 and John Sayles’ “Sunshine State” in 2002 and “Silver City” in 2004.
The actor also starred in the 1980 independent feature “On the Nickel,” about skid-row life in Los Angeles, which he also wrote and produced.
His long history in television began in 1954, when he hosted a show called “Look Up and Live” on CBS.
Waite had a recurring role on ABC’s “Murder One” in 1996 and on HBO series “Carnivale” as the Reverend Norman Balthus from 2003-05. More recently he recurred on “NCIS” as Jackson Gibbs, father to Mark Harmon’s character; on “Bones” as Hank Booth; and on NBC daytime soap “Days of Our Lives.”
“Bones” executive producers Hart Hanson and Stephen Nathan said, “All of us at ‘Bones’ mourn the loss of Ralph Waite. We loved having him on set, and in many ways his character was the moral center of our show as Booth’s (David Boreanaz) plainspoken, loving, war hero grandfather. The entire ‘Bones’ family sends condolences to his family and loved ones.”
Born in White Plains, N.Y., Waite graduated from Bucknell University and essayed various occupations, including social worker, religious editor for Harper & Row, and, after three years at the Yale School of Divinity, Presbyterian minister. He finally began to study acting at age 30, making his professional New York debut in a 1960 production of “The Balcony” at the Circle in the Square. He was seen on Broadway in “Blues for Mister Charlie” and drew critical notice for his performance in 1965’s “Hogan’s Goat” alongside Faye Dunaway.
Waite is survived by his third wife, Linda East, and two daughters from his first marriage.