Ralph Waite dies: Friends, co-stars react to death of ‘Waltons’ actor

Ralph Waite, as Jackson Gibbs, in "NCIS." Waite, 85, who played the father in the hit TV series "The Waltons," died Thursday.
(Cliff Lipson / Associated Press)

Ralph Waite, best known for starring in the CBS series “The Waltons” from 1972 to 1981, died Thursday at his home in Palm Desert, Calif., at the age of 85.

The actor played John Walton Sr., the kind-hearted patriarch of a large, poor family living in rural Virginia in the Great Depression. The wholesome series, which also starred Michael Learned as his wife, Olivia, and Richard Thomas as his eldest son John-Boy, famously ended with a vignette in which the family said goodnight as they turned off the lights.


On Thursday, Waite’s co-stars reacted to the news of his passing.

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“Ralph was a good honest actor and a good honest man,” said Learned. “He was my spiritual husband. We loved each other for over 40 years. He died a working actor at the top of his game. He was a loving mentor to many and a role model to an entire generation.”

Mary McDonough, who played daughter Erin, also mourned his loss. “‘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.”

Waite, who appeared in the landmark miniseries “Roots” and the films “The Bodyguard,” “Cool Hand Luke” and “Cliffhanger,” continued to maintain a busy work pace in his later years, recently starring in “Days of Our Lives,” “Bones” and “NCIS,” where he played the father of Mark Harmon’s character.

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“Everyone at NCIS’ is deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague Ralph Waite,” said the cast and crew of the hit CBS drama in a joint statement. “Ralph was family to us, a tremendous talent and a very special man. We truly cherish the time we had with him. Our hearts and prayers go out to his loved ones.”

Series star Pauley Perrette also tweeted, “So Sad. Ralph Waite has passed away. Papa Gibbs. We love him at NCIS SO much. So so sad.”

“Bones” executive producers Stephen Nathan and Hart Hanson issued a remembrance: “All of us at Bones mourn the loss of Ralph Waite. We loved having him on set and in many ways his character was the moral center of our show as Booth’s plainspoken, loving, war hero grandfather. The entire Bones family sends condolences to his family and loved ones.”


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