‘The Waltons’: When and How Did Ralph Waite Die?

by Joe Rutland
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Actor Ralph Waite portrayed the patriarch of “The Waltons” for nine seasons. He would play other roles, too, before his death.

Waite died on Feb. 13, 2014, at 85 years old from age-related illnesses.

Besides his role as John Walton on “The Waltons,” Waite had roles on other TV series like “Bones” and “NCIS.” As for film work, he secured supporting roles in movies like “Cool Hand Luke,” “Five Easy Pieces,” “The Bodyguard,” and “Cliffhanger.”

His final TV appearance came in 2014 as Father Matt on the popular NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” Waite would play that character as a recurring role between 2009-14.

‘The Waltons’ Actor Lost Three Times While Seeking Political Office

Waite also was politically active as well. He ran three times unsuccessfully for California seats in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat.

Another interesting tidbit about Waite is that he graduated from Yale Divinity School in the 1960s, becoming an ordained Presbyterian minister. Then he left his religious life behind for acting. But he would come back and find his religious roots in 2010, becoming a member of Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship until his death.

Beyond all of that, though, millions around the world know Waite for his work on “The Waltons.” The series, created by Earl Hamner Jr., focused on family life on Walton Mountain in rural Virginia during the Great Depression and World War II.

Learned would appear in all nine seasons of the show, winning three of her four Emmy Awards for playing Olivia. Her fourth Emmy would come from her performance on “Nurse.”

Waite Plays Important Role In Helping Michael Learned On Screen Test

Waite, obviously, played opposite Michael Learned, who was Olivia Walton, on the show. Learned has given Waite credit, along with costar Richard Thomas, for helping save her screen test for “The Waltons” role.

Learned talks about it with an interview for the Television Academy Foundation.

“All I remember about the test, because I was hungover and I’d been crying all night, was, um, I remember Ralph and Richard,” Learned says. “So, I remember getting on the set and [director] Bob Butler sort of talking to me … And, then I saw this young man with a mole here – a very attractive boy, I thought – and this guy in overalls. It was Ralph [Waite] and Richard Thomas.”

Waite and Thomas brought a great and much-needed sense of comfort to Learned.

“God bless them. Because, then I was home,” she says. “It was like, I have two actors and I zeroed in on them. I didn’t even know where the camera was. Nor, did I care at that point. But, I could zero in on them.”

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