Ken Berry, the beloved actor and song and dance man, best known for his role as Captain Wilton Parmenter on F Troop and Vinton Harper on Mama’s Family, has died at age 85. Berry passed away at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
During the Korean War, Berry served in the U.S. Army special services under Sergeant Leonard Nimoy, an assignment that would change his life forever. After entertaining the troops, the Illinois born performer scored a slot on the Ed Sullivan Show and got noticed by TV studios thanks to his connection with the future Mr. Spock.
Berry once talked to TV Party about his friendship with Nimoy and how the Star Trek legend gave his career a boost.
“Lennie said, ‘You really ought to get in touch with the heads of the talent departments at major studios, and see if you get any response.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know how to do that.’ So Lennie said, ‘Well then I’ll do it for you’ and he got two bites – one from Fox, and one from Universal. I can’t remember why, but we settled on Universal, and I went out there after I got out of the Army. I did a screen test that turned out very well I thought, and I don’t usually think that about my work.”
Ken Berry kicked off his TV career in 1960 with appearances on Harrigan and Son and The Ann Sothern Show, the latter of which he landed after Lucille Ball personally offered him a spot on Desilu’s talent program after seeing him perform on Broadway in the Billy Barnes Revue.
But it was his role as Captain Parmenter on the ABC sitcom F Troop that made Ken Berry a household name. Berry starred in 65 episodes of F Troop from September 1965 through April 1967 and lived on in the role for decades in syndication. Per THR, the actor once said he had never been happier than when he worked on the slapstick-filled comedy series, saying, “I walked on air for a long time. It never let me down. I felt like that every day I went to work. I knew how lucky I was at the time.”
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Ken Berry’s other notable roles included town councilman Sam Jones on the Andy Griffith Show spinoff, Mayberry R.F.D., and in the 1980s, after making numerous appearances on the Carol Burnett Show, Berry played dimwitted locksmith Vinton on Vicki Lawrence’s spinoff sitcom, Mama’s Family. He was a frequent guest star on TV shows of the day including the Golden Girls, Love Boat, and Fantasy Island. Ken Berry also turned up on the big screen in the Disney films Herbie Rides Again(1974) and the Cat From Outer Space (1978).
Classic TV fans may also recall Ken Berry’s appearance on the Brady Bunch in an episode that served as a backdoor pilot for a spinoff to the ’70s sitcom. In the season 5 episode “Kelly’s Kids,” Ken Berry and Brooke Bundy played the Brady family’s neighbors, the Kellys, who decided to adopt three young boys with different cultural backgrounds. Berry later told Emmy TV Legends that while he had done many pilots over his career, he thought the show about a mixed race adoption would have “a very good chance of going to air” because it was produced by Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz. Unfortunately, Kelly’s Kids wasn’t picked up by ABC, but the pilot episode did utilize Ken Berry’s acting and dancing talents.
You can see Ken Berry in the Brady Bunch episode, “Kelly’s Kids,” below.
Ken Berry is survived by his former wife, actress Jackie Joseph-Lawrence, and their daughter, Jennifer, per ExtraTV.com. Berry was predeceased by his son, John, in 2016.