Tom Bosley dies at 83; star of stage and TV’s ‘Happy Days’
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Tom Bosley, a Tony Award-winning actor who was best known for playing Howard Cunningham, the amiable father on the hit TV series “Happy Days,” has died. He was 83.
Bosley died early Tuesday at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage after a brief battle with lung cancer, said Grey Munford, a CBS representative.
In an acting career that began on stage in Chicago in the late 1940s, Bosley won a Tony Award for best featured actor in 1960 for his breakthrough role as New York City’s legendary Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in the long-running Broadway musical “Fiorello!”
He made his screen debut as Natalie Wood’s chubby potential suitor in the 1963 film “Love With the Proper Stranger” and appeared in 1960s movies such as “The World of Henry Orient,” “Divorce American Style,” “The Secret War of Harry Frigg” and “Yours, Mine and Ours.”
But it was television that gave him his greatest fame.
His role as dad to Ron Howard’s Richie and Erin Moran’s Joanie Cunningham on “Happy Days,” the 1950s-set ABC series that debuted in 1974, earned him an Emmy nomination and the No. 9 spot in TV Guide’s list of the “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time.”
“He was my [TV] husband for 11 years,” actress Marion Ross, who played Marion Cunningham, said in a statement. “We made a perfect couple, and he was the father of the company in many ways. He was so smart, he could make up or fix a joke for a better end scene at the drop of a hat.”
Expressing his sadness at “the loss of our wonderful Tom Bosley,” Howard recalled in a statement that “Tom’s insight, talent, strength of character and comic timing made him a vital central figure in the ‘Happy Days’ experience.
“A great father and husband, and a wonderful artist, Tom led by example, and made us all laugh while he was doing it. My last conversations with Tom reflected the love of life and peace of mind that he always maintained throughout his full and rewarding life. I miss him already.”
Henry Winkler, who played the Fonz on “Happy Days,” said in a statement: “Tom was a family member, both on and off the soundstage. We acted together, traveled together and played charades together. He will be so missed but never forgotten.”
Scott Baio, who played the teenage Chachi in the series, told The Times on Tuesday that Bosley “was really like everybody’s dad on that show off-camera. He always gave us show-business advice and had a great sense of humor.
“What you saw is what you got with him. He was gregarious and fun.”
Of his role as “Mr. C,” Bosley told the Orange County Register in 1989 that he knew he’d “always be Howard Cunningham to most people, but I’m proud of that character and don’t mind being identified with it.
“It’s a compliment that people remember the character. The only time I don’t enjoy it is when somebody walks up to me and tells me they grew up on the show, and they’ve got gray hair around the temples. I could live without that.”
After “Happy Days” ended, Bosley played Cabot Cove’s Sheriff Amos Tupper on “Murder, She Wrote” for four years.
He then starred as a crime-solving Chicago priest on “Father Dowling Mysteries,” the 1989-91 TV series with Tracy Nelson as Sister Stephanie.
“If you’re a male actor and you live long enough, you’re going to play many kinds of fathers,” Bosley said in the 1989 Register interview.
“Because I’m Jewish, it was of great concern to me to get it right, to make the character believable to Catholics,” he said. “But I was pretty confident I could pull it off.”
Born in Chicago on Oct. 1, 1927, Bosley served in the Navy late in World War II. After the war, he attended DePaul University in Chicago and the Radio Institute of Chicago before moving to New York City, where he studied with Lee Strasberg.
He paid his dues in New York, he recalled in a 1986 interview with the Toronto Star.
That included “odd jobs as a temporary office worker, doorman at the Tavern on the Green and checking hats at Lindy’s for 10 years between acting off-Broadway and in winter and summer stock productions all over the East and Midwest.
“When ‘Fiorello!’ came along in 1959, I was definitely ready,” he said.
Bosley’s TV work in the ‘60s included a stint on “That Was the Week That Was” and guest appearances on numerous TV shows, including “Route 66,” “Dr. Kildare,” “Bewitched” and “The Mod Squad.”
He also appeared in a number of short-lived Broadway plays and musicals before moving to Hollywood in the late 1960s. He was a regular on “The Debbie Reynolds Show,” a 1969-70 situation comedy, and he provided the voice of the conservative father on the 1972-74 animated series “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home.”
He continued to work on stage over the years, including a return to Broadway in 1994 to star as Belle’s father in “Beauty and the Beast.”
He is survived by his wife, Patricia; a daughter, Amy Baer; two stepdaughters, Kimberly diBonaventura and Jamie Van Meter; a brother, Richard Bosley; and seven grandchildren.
Times staff writer Valerie J. Nelson contributed to this report.
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