THE WALTONS is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, so I was greatly saddened this evening to learn of the passing of Ralph Waite, who played John Walton Sr. on the beloved series.
Waite was 85 and died in Palm Desert, California. He was still a busy working actor, with his roles of recent years including a recurring part as Mark Harmon's father on NCIS.
Judy Norton, who played Mary Ellen, Tweeted "There are no words to express the loss of Ralph Waite. My friend, my co-worker, my 'Daddy'. You will forever live on in my heart and in the lives of all you have touched over your lifetime. We are lucky to have known you. R.I.P - good night."
Last year Entertainment Weekly published a lovely reunion photo of the cast.
The onetime minister has described that he was an alcoholic when THE WALTONS began, but he was inspired by his role as "a caring, responsible father to all of these kids" to clean up his life and become sober.
Although I've been fortunate to see most of the WALTONS cast on a couple of occasions over the years -- including a very special day spent on the set when I was 13 or 14 -- I regret I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Waite. The series was a big part of my life for a lot of years, and in turn I've been able to share it with my own children. I'm grateful to everyone who had a part in creating such a wonderful, positive program, including Mr. Waite.
It's an expected cliche, but it's also necessary and so meaningful: "Good night, Daddy."
Update: The official NCIS account has Tweeted a tribute to "Papa Gibbs."
Waite's WALTONS costar Michael Learned said, in part, "Ralph was a good honest actor and a good honest man. He was my spiritual husband. We loved each other for over forty years. He died a working actor at the top of his game."
Mary McDonough (Erin) said, "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."
Update: A lovely tribute from Will McKinley at Cinematically Insane.