Dick Van Patten, ‘Eight Is Enough’ Star, Dies at 86

Dick Van Patten dead
Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

Dick Van Patten, who played the paterfamilias on the 1980s TV dramedy “Eight Is Enough,” died on Tuesday morning. He was 86.

Patten died at Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif., due to complications from diabetes.

The always-genial, round-faced actor also appeared in Disney films including “Freaky Friday” (the original, Jodie Foster version) as well as Mel Brooks comedies “High Anxiety,” “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “Space Balls.”

Though long associated with television and film comedies, the actor spent a great deal of time on stage, making the first of his two dozen or so appearances on Broadway as a child back in 1937, in Kurt Weill’s “The Eternal Road.”

He had most recently appeared onscreen in a guest role as Lester on TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland.” Other relatively recent credits include “7th Heaven” in 2004, “Arrested Development” in 2005, “That ’70s Show” in 2006 and “The Sarah Silverman Program” in 2008.

Van Patten starred as Tom Bradford, the father of eight children, on ABC’s “Eight Is Enough” from 1977-81. The show was based on the life of journalist Tom Braden, who had written a book of the same name. Van Patten also appeared in the 1987 reunion movie and 1989’s “An Eight Is Enough Wedding.” He reprised the role of Tom Bradford via voice work on the animated sitcom “Family Guy” in 1999.

Richard Vincent Van Patten was born in Kew Gardens, N.Y.

He made his Broadway debut in Kurt Weill’s “The Eternal Road,” a spectacle of Jewish history, in 1937 (in 2000, the centenary of Weill’s birth, Van Patten attended a full restaging of the mammoth six-hour work at Brooklyn’s BAM). The next year the youngster appeared in Paul Osborn’s hit “On Borrowed Time,” which was adapted into a film starring Lionel Barrymore and Cedric Hardwicke, and appeared in “Run Sheep Run”; in 1939 he was part of the George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart spectacle “The American Way.” There followed “The Land Is Bright,” by Kaufman and Edna Ferber, in 1941-42, with the young actor still credited as Dickie Van Patten; Thornton Wilder’s original comedy “The Skin of Our Teeth” in 1942-43; Edward Chodorov’s “Decision” in 1944; “The Wind Is Ninety” in 1945; Terrence Rattigan’s enormous hit “O Mistress Mine,” starring Lunt and Fontanne, in 1946-47, marking the first time he was credited as Dick Van Patten; and “Mister Roberts,” in which the actor was a replacement for David Wayne as Ensign Pulver.

After “Mister Roberts,” Van Patten was missing from Broadway until a one-night stint in “Have I Got a Girl for You!” in 1963; two years later he was stage manager and understudy on the original Ruth Gordon-Garson Kanin play “A Very Rich Woman.” In 1968 he appeared in the Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna-penned, Charles Grodin-directed comedy “Lovers and Other Strangers,” which would soon be adapted for the bigscreen. The next year the actor appeared in “But, Seriously…”; Van Patten returned to Broadway for the final time in 1974-75 in Herb Gardner’s comedy “Thieves.”

In addition to his work onstage, Van Patten was involved in television from early on. He was a series regular as son Nels on CBS’ “Mama,” a series about a Norwegian family in San Francisco based on the play and movie “I Remember Mama,” starting in 1949.

After 1970 the actor was a steady presence on the smallscreen for the next several decades. During the 1970s he guested on “I Dream of Jeannie,” “That Girl,” “Sanford and Son,” “McMillan and Wife,” “Love, American Style,” “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” “Phyllis,” “Maude,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “One Day at a Time.”

During and after the run of “Eight Is Enough,” he guested some six times on “The Love Boat,” and during the 1980s he guested on series including “Murder, She Wrote” and “The Facts of Life.” Later he appeared on “Touched by an Angel,” “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and “Love Boat: The Next Wave.”

Van Patten’s first series-regular gig came on the brief, Don Adams-created cop spoof “The Partners,” which also starred Adams and ran in 1971-72. He recurred on “The New Dick Van Dyke Show” in 1973-74 as Max Matthias, and he played Friar Tuck on ABC’s brief Robin Hood spoof “When Things Were Rotten,” co-created by Mel Brooks (who much later cast Van Patten in his 1993 feature spoof “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” as the Abbot). After “Eight Is Enough,” he tried the series-regular route again with CBS’ brief 1990-91 drama “WIOU,” a primetime soap set at a TV station.

He made his feature debut in the 1963 horror “Violent Midnight” but more significantly played one of the scientists who aid the lead character in 1968’s “Charly,” starring Cliff Robertson as a mentally handicapped man who is provided with a medical treatment that renders him a genius — for a while. In 1972 he appeared in the Larry Hagman-directed horror comedy “Beware! The Blob.” More impressive was his supporting role in the Clint Eastwood Western “Joe Kidd” the same year. He also appeared in sci-fiers “Soylent Green” and “Westworld”; several Disney features, including Bob Crane starrer “Superdad,” “The Shaggy D.A.” and “Freaky Friday”; and a number of Brooks films starting with 1977’s “High Anxiety.”

Van Patten served as a commentator for the World Series of Poker from 1993-95.

His memoir “Eighty Is Not Enough,” co-authored with Robert Baer, was published in 2009.

Survivors include wife Pat, to whom he was married since 1954; three sons, actors Nels Van Patten, James Van Patten and Vincent Van Patten; a sister, actress Joyce Van Patten; and a much younger half-brother, director-producer Timothy Van Patten.

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  1. great dad on TV enjoyed Eight is Enough

  2. Ginger says:

    I always thought of “I Remember Mama” when ever I would see him in a show, let’s you all know how old I am. R.I.P. and best to all his loved ones!!!

  3. neela says:

    I’ve always liked him as an actor…he’ll be very much missed. May he R.I.P

  4. trflanigan says:

    grow up watching eight is enough.he was such a great talented actor.

  5. Marty Gillis says:

    Dick was great in High Anxiety. Killed by loud rock-n-roll. Classic! The weekly card games he occasionally attended at the Playboy Mansion with Hef, Johnny Carson and Don Adams are the stuff of legends! R.I.P !

  6. Lenora says:

    When he would write his signature for a fan, he would always draw the numeral “8” below it.
    Nice. An every letter autograph and then some. Condolences to his family and friends.

  7. I am deeply saddened. My favorite work of his was Friar Tuck in Mel Brooks’ brilliantly funny 1975 TV series, “When Things Were Rotten.” You will be missed tremendously. R.I.P, Dick.

  8. Joe says:

    An encounter with Dick Van Patten, who I used to see at Starbucks all the time. … http://storiesovercoffee.com/2015/06/23/dick-van-patten/

  9. james says:

    Goodbye, Favorite Dad. We will miss you. RIP.

  10. Nanny Mo says:

    He always made me laugh. Talented man. My best to his family.

  11. cdhaskell says:

    I hope that TCM will have a marathon of Dick Van Patton’s film. I know that it would make his fan happy.

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