Ralph Waite, who played the lovable father figure in the 1970s family drama The Waltons, died yesterday. He was 85 and reportedly in good health, according to his manager, Alan Wills. Waite worked in the years that led up to his death, having appeared on NCIS just last year, as well as episodes of the daytime soap opera Days of our Lives. Ralph shot to stardom in The Waltons, which followed a family living in rural Virginia and their struggle to survive through the Great Depression and World War II. The show enjoyed a successful run from 1972-1981. He is survived by his third wife, Linda East, and two daughters, Kathleen and Suzanne, from his first marriage. He was predeceased by his eldest daughter Sharon, who died at the age of nine of leukemia.
The late actor’s co-stars paid tribute to him, including Mary McDonough, who played his daughter on the show: “I am devastated to announce the loss of my precious ‘papa’ Walton, Ralph Waite. 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.” His on-screen wife Michael Learned also expressed her sorrow in a touching statement: “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.” ~Yara Matar