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Beloved actor Ralph Waite dead at 85

Waite at "The Waltons" 40th Anniversary in 2012.

Ralph Waite, best known as papa John Walton from 1972-1981, as well as the cantankerous Jackson Gibbs, father to Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS patriarch on the Walton, as well as the cantakerous has died at the age of 85 from natural causes. He also appeared in recent epsiodes of “Bones” as the grandfather of FBI agent Sealy Booth, and as a priest on “Days of Our Lives.”

Born June 22, 1928, in White Plains, NY, Waite was the oldest of five children. Although he was “too young” for World War II, he joined served in the Marine Corp. from 1946 to 1948, before graduating from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA, then worked for a short time as a social worker. He later earned a master's degree from Yale University Divinity School and was an ordained Presbyterian minister. He also worked as religious editor at Harper & Row in New York City before deciding to switch to acting.

After appearing on stage, Waite jumped to the big screen, appearing in numerous films including “Cool Hand Luke” (1967), “Five Easy Pieces”(1970), “The Magnificent Seven Ride" (1972), and with Sylvester Stallone in “Cliffhanger” (1993), etc.

“He was my spiritual husband. We loved each other for over 40 years,” commented Michael Learned, who played his wife Olivia on "The “Waltons.” “He died a working actor at the top of his game.”

In real life, RalphWaite was married three times. Two marriages ended in divorce. He had three daughters from his first marriage, the eldest of which, Sharon Waite, died of leukemia when she was nine years old in 1964. He is survived by his third wife Linda East Waite, and stepson, Liam Waite, is also an actor.

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