Vic Tayback; Actor Best Known as Mel in ‘Alice’ TV Series


Vic Tayback, the actor best known for his role as the gruff diner owner and short-order cook Mel Sharples on the long-running television series “Alice,” died early Friday of a heart attack. He was 60.

Tayback was pronounced dead at 1:56 a.m. at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, where he was taken after his wife called paramedics. She said he had climbed out of bed, taken a few steps and collapsed.

Tayback, a smoker who told his agent Fred Amsel on Thursday that he had again given up the habit, had a history of heart problems. He underwent a triple bypass in 1983.


The Brooklyn-born actor had a 33-year career in film, television and stage, but will be remembered best as Mel, the crusty boss whose cooking was so notoriously bad that the Heinz food company hired Tayback to advertise its foolproof sauces.

Tayback created the role in the 1975 movie, “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” and then anchored the cast of zany waitresses starring Linda Lavin for the “Alice” series on CBS. It ran from 1976 to 1985. Tayback won Golden Globe awards in 1979 and 1980 for Mel’s loudmouth, overbearing antics.

Tayback’s film credits included “Bullitt,” “Papillon,” “The Gambler” and “The Choirboys.”

He appeared in a number of television series, including “Mission: Impossible,” “Star Trek,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “All in the Family,” “The Love Boat,” and “Fantasy Island.”

Born Victor Tabback on Jan. 6, 1930, the son of Syrian immigrants moved to Southern California with his parents when he was a teen-ager. He attended Glendale Community College and the Frederick A. Speare School of Radio and TV Broadcasting, with the thought of becoming a sports announcer.

A forced role in a school version of “Stalag 17” taught him that he enjoyed making audiences laugh and changed his career plans to acting. Until his career took off, he worked as a bank teller and cab driver.

Tayback appeared in more than 25 stage productions, including “12 Angry Men,” “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Death of a Salesman.”

Earlier this year, he portrayed a Lebanese immigrant in the comedy “An Oasis in Manhattan” at the Venture Theatre in Burbank.

With other performers, Tayback founded the Los Angeles-based theater group Company of Angels.

Wry and down-to-earth off-camera as well as on, Tayback five years ago wrote to then-President Ronald Reagan with a proposal for reducing the national debt.

“It’s in the form of a national lottery,” he explained to a reporter. “You work extra hours per month. . . . The money you earn goes into a pot. Every month there is a lottery-type thing, and 155,000 Americans win money. . . . It’s a four-year plan and I say $60 billion can come into the treasury.”

But, he conceded, he never heard from the Reagan Administration.

Tayback is survived by his wife, Sheila McKay Barnard, whom he married in 1962; his son, Christopher; his mother, Helen Hanood Tabback, and a brother and sister.

Mass will be said Tuesday evening at Incarnation Catholic Church, 1001 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Burial will be Wednesday at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Glendale.