Some men want to be politicians, some want to be actors, and some even want to be ministers. Ralph Waite managed to be all three. The man known to most of the world as the patriarch from the wildly successful '70s TV show "The Waltons" was much more than the fatherly exterior he displayed. He served in the Marine Corps, didn't decide to act until he was 30, and ran for political office numerous times. But even after his death in February 2014 at the age of 85, he was forever remembered by fans as the kindly John Walton Sr.
Waite grew up in White Plains, NY where he was born the son of a construction engineer on June 22, 1928. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps when he was 18, and after that, he graduated from Bucknell University and Yale University Divinity School. Throughout all that, he bounced between jobs ranging from social worker to Presbyterian minister. It wasn't until the age of 30 that Waite, after taking issue with some of the church's methodologies and getting political, found his calling as an actor. His first professional work was "The Balcony," an off-Broadway show in 1960 and from there he went on to work his way up the theater chain until he started catching breaks in movies, where he went from a bit part in "Cool Hand Luke" (1967) to co-starring in "Five Easy Pieces" (1970). The latter role garnered him much acclaim, directing him to the role that defined his career: John Walton of "The Waltons" (CBS 1972-1981). A TV sensation, "The Waltons" lasted nine years, netting Waite an Emmy nomination. During the show's run, he also appeared in the TV mini-series "Roots" (ABC 1977), receiving another Emmy nod. Throughout his acting career to this point, Waite dealt with being an alcoholic, and his sickness was the muse behind his well-received writing debut that he also directed, "On the Nickel" (1980), which told the story of a recovering alcoholic. By the late '80s, Waite was still known as Mr. Walton, as most of his work was either the same character in TV movies or characters heavily inspired by his claim to fame. He decided in 1990 to run for Congress in California. While his campaign, along with a pair of 1998 runs, was unsuccessful, his political activity marked another career change, though he still acted, mostly in guest spots on TV shows such as "NCIS" (CBS 2003- ) and "Bones" (Fox 2005- ). 2010 was another shift for Waite, as he returned to the Presbyterian church after 50 years of inactivity. Ralph Waite died of natural causes on February 13, 2014.
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Made professional acting debut in New York theater
"The Waltons" begins
Co-starred in "Roots" TV mini-series
Writing debut (also directed) in "On the Nickel"
Unsuccessfully ran for Congress in California