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Goodbye, Ralph Waite: 'The Waltons' patriarch dead at 85

Ralph Waite, beloved father of seven on long-running drama, "The Waltons," died Thursday. He was 85.
Ralph Waite, beloved father of seven on long-running drama, "The Waltons," died Thursday. He was 85.
CBS via Getty

Anyone who watched "The Waltons" in the 1970s, or as reruns anytime thereafter, likely has fond memories of the entire cast, including Ralph Waite, who played the persevering dad of seven children.

Waite, who led the fictional family through tough times during the Great Depression as John Walton, died Thursday. He was 85. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Steve Gordon, the Waite family's accountant, confirmed he passed away in his Palm Desert, California home. The Desert Sun quoted a family friend, Jerry Preece, who said Waite died of a "tired heart."

Besides spending nine seasons as the patriarch on the CBS drama, for which he received one Primetime Emmy nomination, Waite appeared in several movies, including "Cool Hand Luke" and "Five Easy Pieces." Waite also appeared on Broadway, and earned another Emmy nomination for his work as a slave ship's third mate in the landmark 1977 TV miniseries, "Roots."

Most recently, he appeared as the father of Mark Harmon's Jethro Gibbs on "NCIS."

While he didn't talk about it often, Waite acknowledged he battled alcoholism. He said he drank from the time he was 17 until he was 44, at which time he began his journey of recovery.

"I don't know anyone who's made a successful recovery alone," he said. "That's the key — to ask for help. Some people have the willpower the strength to stop drinking, but they're pretty miserable people.

Waite admitted that he was uncomfortable speaking publicly about his alcoholism, but hoped doing so might help someone else. (If you need help, or think you might, visit the Alcoholics Anonymous website or talk to your family physician.)

In the meantime, fans of the show that made, "Good night, John-Boy," a household phrase, now say, "Goodbye, Ralph Waite. May you rest in peace."

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