The Walton’s patriarch Ralph Waite has died at age 85. The talented actor was most well known for his role of John Walton, Sr., in the long running television series. Friends confirmed that Waite passed away in his Palm Desert, California, home on Thursday.
Although he will be remembered for the iconic role, Waite did not begin acting until he was 30 years old. A native of White Plains, New York, Waite joined the United States Marines upon graduating from high school. After serving two years, he enrolled in Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University.
Following the completion of a Bachelor of Arts degree, Waite began a career in social work in Westchester County, New York. Although he enjoyed helping others, he soon became frustrated with the bureaucracy. His dissatisfaction with the system eventually inspired him to pursue a career as a minister.
Ralph Waite attended Yale Divinity School, where he earned a master’s degree. Following his graduation, he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. Waite went on to work as a minister and a religious editor for Harper & Row publishing. However, he found that he was still dissatisfied with his life.
In the early 1960s, Waite started taking acting lessons. As reported by Biography, Waite appeared in several off-Broadway productions throughout the 1960s.
In 1964, Waite’s lost his 9-year-old daughter to leukemia. Five years later he and his first wife divorced. Seeking a new life, the budding actor headed to Hollywood.
Waite got his big break in 1970 when he landed the role of Carle Fidelio Dupea in the film Five Easy Pieces. Two years later, Waite was cast as John Walton, Sr., in a new series called The Waltons. The successful series ran for nine seasons.
Following the series finale, Waite appeared in several other series. From 2003 to 2005, he played the reverend Norman Balthus on HBO’s Carnivale. He also played Jackson Gibbs on NCIS from 2008 to 2012.
Most recently, Ralph Waite played priest “Father Matt” in Days of Our Lives. His role in the daytime series ended last year.
Although Waite left the church when he started acting, he eventually joined a Presbyterian church in Palm, Desert, California. The iconic actor appreciated the church’s liberal atmosphere, which encouraged him to preach several sermons.
The New York Times reports Ralph Waite is survived by his wife of 30 years, Linda East. He is also survived by two daughters and a step-son. Although he was well-educated and had a full life, Waite will always be remembered as Papa Walton.