Van Patten played a father figure

Dick Van Patten
Dick Van Patten

New York - Dick Van Patten, the cheerful actor best known for his role as the firm if harried suburban father on the hit TV series Eight Is Enough, died on Tuesday in Santa Monica, California. He was 86.

A spokesman said the cause was complications of diabetes.

In Eight Is Enough, Van Patten played the patriarch of a family of eight children. It was among the top-rated shows on television during its four-year run on ABC from 1977 to 1981.

Some of the show's actors, including Willie Aames and Grant Goodeve, became stars, but its serene centre was Van Patten, whose character dealt genially with the various small family dramas.

While it was reminiscent of another California-based family comedy with lots of kids, The Brady Bunch, the hour-long Eight Is Enough was more serious - it sought to deal with some of life's larger issues.

That goal was brought to the fore when Diana Hyland, who played Van Patten's wife, died of cancer after four episodes. Her death was written into the show, something that would have been hard to imagine in the candy-coated world of the Bradys, and Van Patten's character later married a schoolteacher, played by Betty Buckley.

Van Patten, who had three children of his own - Nels, Jimmy and Vincent, who followed him into acting - was a father figure on the set, helping to calm some of the more outrageous instincts of young actors suddenly thrust into the spotlight.

A profile in People magazine said Van Patten's only vices were twice-weekly poker games and visits to the racetrack.

"I'm not certain myself who is really mine and who I borrowed from the show," he said of his brood of real and fictional children.

The well-publicised misbehaviour of some of his young co-stars, as well as declining ratings, led ABC to cancel Eight Is Enough in 1981. Van Patten said he learnt of the cancellation in the newspaper.

His other main claim to fame was his presence in comedies by Mel Brooks. He played small but memorable roles in Brooks' High Anxiety (1977), Spaceballs (1987) and Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993).

New York Times

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2015, with the headline 'Van Patten played a father figure'. Print Edition | Subscribe