Dick Van Dyke is the versatile comedic actor who became a beloved television icon as the ottoman-tripping — or sidestepping — star of the classic 1960s situation comedy “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
In a more than 60-year show business career that began as half of a post-World War II nightclub comedy act that lip-synced records, Van Dyke displayed his versatility in a variety of roles, including Bert the cheerful Cockney chimney sweep in the Oscar-winning 1964 Disney musical “Mary Poppins” and an alcoholic public relations man in the 1974 TV movie “The Morning After.”
Van Dyke also had an eight-season run as the white-haired and mustachioed crime-solving doctor in “Diagnosis Murder,” from 1993 to 2001.
But it’s the five years that the much younger Van Dyke spent on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” in the 1960s era of cardigan sweaters and skinny ties, that secured his place in television history.
Van Dyke was playing his Tony Award-winning role in the hit Broadway musical “Bye Bye Birdie” when performer-writer Carl Reiner met him backstage and offered him the part that became his signature role: TV comedy writer Rob Petrie, a married father of a young son living in New Rochelle, N.Y.
The series, with a cast that included Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie and Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie as Petrie’s fellow comedy writers, ran from 1961 to 1966.
After the “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” he turned his attention to his film career, which began with the 1963 film version of “Bye Bye Birdie,” costarring Janet Leigh and Ann-Margret. Van Dyke, however, had only modest success on the big screen.
From 1964 to 1971, Van Dyke appeared in “What a Way to Go!,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Art of Love,” “Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.,” “Divorce American Style,” “Fitzwilly,” “Never a Dull Moment,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “Some Kind of a Nut,” “The Comic” and “Cold Turkey.”
His most notable film role was Bert, the cheerful jack-of-all-trades, opposite Julie Andrews’ magical nanny in the multiple Oscar-winning “Mary Poppins.”
Van Dyke’s Cockney accent was heavily criticized. But the film, with songs including “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” showcased Van Dyke’s versatility as a singer and loose-limbed dancer, most memorably in a scene where he danced with animated penguins.
While focusing on his film career in the late '60s, Van Dyke and his family moved to a ranch in Cave Creek, Ariz.
In 1971, he returned to series television with “The New Dick Van Dyke Show,” a situation comedy shot in a studio in Carefree, Ariz., with Hope Lange as his wife. The show, featuring Van Dyke as an Arizona TV talk show host, ran for three seasons.
In 1972, the man the New York Post had once described as having “the most wholesome image in show business” made the startling public revelation that he was an alcoholic. At one point, realizing that he couldn’t ignore his drinking problem, he decided to seek help.
“I shocked myself into it,” he told TV Guide, “when I found myself turning on those nearest and dearest to me. I did things I still can’t bear to talk about.”
He checked into a hospital psychiatric ward for two weeks, which, he later told People magazine, “did me no good whatsoever.” Van Dyke, who said he had been sober since 1978, finally turned to prayer. “I prayed: ‘Get this away from me.’ And [the drinking] just kind of fizzled away.”
In 1974, Van Dyke played a dramatic role that hit close to home and earned him an Emmy nomination: the part of alcoholic Charlie Lester in the landmark TV drama “The Morning After.”
Despite his triumph in “The Morning After,” Van Dyke experienced little success in television in the '70s and '80s.
In 1993, Van Dyke launched the long-running series “Diagnosis Murder,” in which he played the crime-solving Dr. Mark Sloan. Son Barry Van Dyke played Sloan’s police detective son and other Van Dykes also appeared on the show.