Ralph Waite

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Ralph Waite
Ralph Waite.jpg
Waite at the 40th anniversary of The Waltons on September 29, 2012
Born (1928-06-22)June 22, 1928
White Plains, New York, U.S.
Died February 13, 2014(2014-02-13) (aged 85)
Palm Desert, California, U.S.
Cause of death Age-related illnesses
Occupation Actor, political activist
Years active 1954–2014
Political party Democratic
  • Beverly Waite (m. 1951; div. 1966)
  • Kerry Shear Waite (m. 1977; div. 1981)
  • Linda East (m. 1982; his death 2014)
Children 3 daughters (1 deceased)
Parent(s) Ralph H. Waite and Esther (née Mitchell) Waite

Ralph Waite (June 22, 1928 – February 13, 2014) was an American actor and political activist, best known for his role as John Walton, Sr. on The Waltons, which he occasionally directed. In addition, Waite appeared in many guest roles on numerous television series, lastly in a recurring role in NCIS as Jackson Gibbs, the father of Leroy Jethro Gibbs.[1]

Early life[edit]

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] 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 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]

Waite made his Broadway debut in Blues for Mister Charlie, and would work on and off-Broadway steadily throughout the 1960s.

Film work[edit]

His film work included roles in Cool Hand Luke, Five Easy Pieces, Lawman, 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 Traveller in the 2002 Science Fiction Historical Drama film Timequest (film) .

Later stage work[edit]

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.

Personal life[edit]

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.[5] 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[edit]

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 five percentage points. 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.[6] He was defeated in that election by Mary Bono, Sonny's widow, and lost to her again that November.

On October 21, 1991, Waite introduced then-former California Governor Jerry Brown prior to the latter's speech announcing his candidacy for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination.[7]

Electoral history[edit]

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 peacefully in Palm Desert, California, of age-related illnesses at age 85.[8]




As director[edit]

As producer[edit]

As writer[edit]



  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. ^ Interview with Beverly Waite; accessed May 19, 2014.
  6. ^ Lyman, Rick (February 13, 1998). "On Stage and Off". New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2012. 
  7. ^ http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/BrownA
  8. ^ "The Waltons' actor Ralph Waite dies at 85 in Palm Desert", "Mydesert.com", February 13, 2014

External links[edit]