Ralph Waite is best known as John Walton, patriarch of the TV Walton family, for nine seasons on the popular 1970s show. During a decade where nostalgia was the norm in films and television shows, Waite offered a stern-yet-understanding presence in this series that revisited Depression America. Waite's other 1970s TV triumph was in a role on the classic miniseries "Roots."
In movies, Ralph Waite often played characters that were far different than his folksy Walton portrayal. Appearances in movies like "Cool Hand Luke (1967)," with Paul Newman, "Five Easy Pieces" (1970), with Jack Nicholson, and "The Stone Killer" (1973), with Charles Bronson, allowed for Waite's versatility as an actor to shine through.
Waite remained active in films and television well into the 21st century. More recent appearances saw him features on such shows as NCIS, "Bones," and "Grey's Anatomy." He also had a 100-episode stint on daytime TV's "Days of Our Lives" over the past five years. In each of his performances, Waite was a very grounded actor who enveloped his role in a very natural manner.
It is this natural manner that made Waite's performance as John Walton anchor the narrative of each episode. Even if his role was marginal and peripheral, it still had an impact, a resonance, that allowed his status as family patriarch exhibit a real strength and firmness of character. Waite enjoyed the role and would return periodically to appear in TV movies that gathered the cast after the series itself had run its course.
Along with acting, Waite studied theology, working as Presbyterian minister before becoming an actor. In the 1990s, Waite took a stab at politics, running unsuccessfully for Congress in California on three different occasions.
Waite died at 86 on February 13, 2014 after a long, successful life in many different areas, including film and television work that has already withstood the test of time.