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Ralph Waite

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Ralph Waite
Waite at the 40th anniversary of The Waltons on September 29, 2012
Born(1928-06-22)June 22, 1928
DiedFebruary 13, 2014(2014-02-13) (aged 85)
Resting placeWhite Plains Rural Cemetery
Alma materBucknell University and Yale Divinity School
Occupation(s)Actor, political activist
Years active1954–2014
Political partyDemocratic
Beverly Waite
(m. 1951; div. 1966)
Kerry Shear Waite
(m. 1977; div. 1981)
Linda East
(m. 1982)

Ralph Waite (June 22, 1928 – February 13, 2014) was an American actor, best known for his lead role as John Walton Sr. on The Waltons (1972–1981), which he occasionally directed. He later had recurring roles as two other heroic fathers; in NCIS as Jackson Gibbs, the father of Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and in Bones, as Seeley Booth's grandfather. Waite had supporting roles in movies such as Cool Hand Luke (1967), Five Easy Pieces (1970), The Grissom Gang (1971), The Bodyguard (1992), and Cliffhanger (1993).[1]

Early life


Waite, the eldest of five children, was born in White Plains, New York, on June 22, 1928, to Ralph H. Waite, a construction engineer, and Esther (née Mitchell) Waite.[2] He graduated from White Plains Senior High School in 1946. Too young for World War II, Waite served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1946 to 1948, then graduated from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He worked briefly as a social worker. Waite earned a master's degree from Yale University's Divinity School and was an ordained Presbyterian minister and religious editor at Harper & Row, New York, before deciding on an acting career.[3] He was a member of the Peninsula Players summer theater program during the 1963 season.[4]

In 1963, Waite made his Broadway debut as the Minister in Marathon '33, written and directed by June Havoc.[5] He next appeared in Blues for Mister Charlie, and worked on- and off-Broadway steadily throughout the 1960s.[6]

Film work

From The Waltons (1972), L-R: Ralph Waite, Richard Thomas, and Michael Learned

His film work included roles in Cool Hand Luke, Five Easy Pieces, Lawman, Kid Blue, The Grissom Gang, Chato's Land, and The Stone Killer. His later films included The Bodyguard, the part of Frank the helicopter pilot in the 1993 film Cliffhanger, and as the mysterious time traveler in Timequest (2002).[7] He also voiced Shadow in Homeward Bound II.

Later stage work


Waite scored a personal triumph when he created the role of Will Kidder in the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Young Man from Atlanta, by playwright Horton Foote, in 1995.[8]

Personal life


Waite was married three times, two marriages ending in divorce. He had three daughters from his first marriage. His eldest daughter, Sharon Waite, died of leukemia when she was 9 years old in 1964.[9] Liam Waite, one of Waite's stepsons, is also an actor. After 50 years away from organized religion, Waite returned in 2010 and became an active member of Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship in Palm Desert, California.[3]

Political involvement


Waite ran unsuccessfully for Congress in California as a Democrat on three occasions: In 1990, he challenged veteran GOP incumbent Al McCandless in the Riverside County-based 37th district, losing by 5%. In 1998, Waite ran in the special election for the then-Palm Springs-based 44th district left vacant by the death of incumbent Sonny Bono.[10] He was defeated in that election by Mary Bono, Sonny's widow, and lost to her again that November.[11]

On October 21, 1991, Waite introduced former California Governor Jerry Brown prior to the latter's speech announcing his candidacy for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination.[12]

Electoral history

Year Office Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct
1990 U.S House of Representatives
District 37
Jeffrey Jacobs 29%
Ralph Waite 71%
103,961 44.8% Bud Mathewson 27%
Al McCandless 73%
115,469 49.8%
1998 U.S House of Representatives
District 44 (special election)
Ralph Waite 24,228 28.8% Mary Bono 53,755 64%
1998 U.S House of Representatives
District 39 (general election)
Ralph Waite 57,697 35.7% Mary Bono 97,013 60.1%



On February 13, 2014, Waite died in Palm Desert, California, of natural causes at age 85.[13] He is buried in White Plains Rural Cemetery in New York.







As director


As producer

  • 1984 A Good Sport (executive producer)

As writer





  1. ^ "Ralph Waite will be honored in 'NCIS' season finale". USA Today. February 24, 2014.
  2. ^ "Ralph Waite profile at". Filmreference.com. Retrieved August 12, 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Presbyterian Church (USA) – Ralph Waite finds a home in church". Pcusa.org. August 6, 2010. Retrieved August 12, 2010.
  4. ^ Peninsula Players 65th Anniversary Program, 1999
  5. ^ Playbill, vol. 1 (January 1964) No. 1, Marathon ’33, p. 27.
  6. ^ Byrge, Duane (February 13, 2014). "'The Waltons' Actor Ralph Waite Dead at 85". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  7. ^ "R.I.P. 'The Waltons' Patriarch Ralph Waite". Deadline Hollywood. February 13, 2014. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent (January 30, 1995). "THEATER REVIEW; Nameless Menace In Latest By Foote". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  9. ^ Interview with Beverly Waite Archived December 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine; accessed May 19, 2014.
  10. ^ Lyman, Rick (February 13, 1998). "On Stage and Off". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  11. ^ "'The Waltons' actor Ralph Waite dies at 85". Fox 5 San Diego. February 14, 2014. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  12. ^ Brown Presidential Campaign Announcement, Oct 21 1991
  13. ^ "The Waltons' actor Ralph Waite dies at 85 in Palm Desert." Archived May 14, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, "Mydesert.com", February 13, 2014