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Ralph Waite: Mark Harmon talks about Waite’s death, says ‘bye dad’ on ‘NCIS’

Ralph Waite “was a man's man,” says Mark Harmon about the incredible man who played his “NCIS” dad Jackson Gibbs. Ralph Waite touched the hearts of many as John Walton, Sr., on the 1972–1981 CBS TV series “The Waltons." He was part of the "NCIS" team beginning in season six. During the show's season finale on Tuesday, Mark Harmon and the rest of the cast will say their final good-byes to the beloved man. “Though NCIS season finales are known for being action-packed cliff-hangers, the final episode of Season 11 may have fans reaching for tissues rather than sitting on the edge of their seats,” reports The Randolph County Herald Tribune on May 12.

Ralph Waite: Mark Harmon says ‘bye dad’ on ‘NCIS,’ talks about Waite’s death
Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images

Ralph Waite’s death on Feb. 13, 2014, was unexpected to those who saw the American actor perform as a strong man on “NCIS.” For Waite’s longtime friend Jerry Preece, however, it was more of a matter of nature taking its course, reported The Desert Sun. Preece used to spent a lot of time with his friend eating at different restaurants and going to the movies. On Feb. 13, when he arrived at the 85-year-old actor’s Palm Desert home around 11 a.m., he was met by ambulances and Waite’s wife Linda.

“She just told me she thought he’d passed,” Preece said. “We had talked a lot about it ... he had been ill on and off lately and had a couple of spells in the hospitals. Everything was just wearing out. This last year or two, he had really gotten closer to realizing that his body was wearing out.” Preece said his friend died of a “tired heart.”

Mark Harmon plays Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Jackson Gibb’s (Ralph Waite’s) son on “NCIS.” Like Waite’s friend Preece, Harmon also saw the signs of age in the 85-year-old man. “He loved being here [on location], and we loved having him.” But off camera, Harmon says that “you’d see little crinkles, little skips, little different things – nothing too bad. But when someone said, ‘Action,’ and the camera got turned on, you’d better be bolted to the floor, because he was going to take you into the next country.”

Like Preece, Harmon found out about Waite’s death from a family member. “I got a call from Liam, Ralph’s son,” he said. He then told the show’s creator Gary Glasberg and the other cast members. “The loss is big,” said Harmon following the news of Waite’s death, “but the other part is the gift we had for as many years as we had him here.”

For Harmon, loss has become a part of his role as Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Sasha Alexander, who had played Kate, left, and so did Cote de Pablo, who had played Ziva. With fans being divided about the newbie character of Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham), it is somewhat questionable how long she will last. Many fans miss the chemistry that existed between Harmon and Cote de Pablo. As for Waite, there will be no replacement for dad. In the “NCIS” finale, Gibbs is “dealing with the realities people deal with when they lose a loved one,” says Glasberg.

Waite’s final “NCIS” episode with the cast members was “Better Angels,” which was broadcast in November. In the episode, the older Gibbs finally tells his son Leroy Jethro Gibbs his World War II story. It appears the episode was almost prophetic when the older Gibbs introduced his son with pride to an old war buddy. Whether on-screen or off, what more can a son wish for than his dad talk about him with pride?

In the “NCIS” final season 11 episode, the father-son theme of “Better Angels” will continue and embrace a son having to say a final good-bye to his dad. "Everyone involved really wanted to do this," creator Gary Glasberg told "We wanted to do this properly and say goodbye to a character that we all really enjoyed writing over the years, and goodbye to an actor that meant a lot to us. ... This was such a significant event for us, both on-screen and off, that we wanted to handle it properly and do it well, and let people mourn the passing of Gibbs' dad with him."

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