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June 23, 2015

Dick Van Patten of 'Eight is Enough' dies at 86

Dick Van Patten, who grew from a busy child actor on Broadway to be a mainstay on U.S. television as the amiable patriarch on the family show "Eight Is Enough," died on Tuesday at age 86, his spokesman said.

Van Patten died at a hospital in Santa Monica, California, of complications from diabetes, his representative, Jeffrey Ballard, said in a statement.

Van Patten, whose career spanned about eight decades, was known for a big smile framed by prominent cheeks and an effusive personality.

He came from a family filled with entertainers and as a boy worked on Broadway in the 1930s and 1940s. As an adult, he became a familiar face on television shows and in films in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Stardom came with "Eight Is Enough" in 1977 as he played Tom Bradford, a Sacramento, California, newspaper columnist who, with his wife, presided over a brood of five daughters and three sons. The show ran through 1981 and was a solid ratings performer for the ABC network.

Van Patten got the role over the objection of the show's creator and at the insistence of ABC executive Fred Silverman.

He described "Eight Is Enough" as a "big, loving and goofy family." The show mixed comedy and drama as it focused on the young characters coming of age. It touched on some controversial issues - drugs, race, sex and other topics that the previous generation of TV shows had shunned.

Van Patten's character went through the death of his first wife, a new marriage and a reunion with a long-lost father, as well as the never-ending challenges of parenting eight kids.

But the show's family was far from dysfunctional.

"Large families got a big kick out of watching the show," Van Patten said in a 2011 interview with the Archive of American Television. "They said it was very real - that's the way large families are. The only criticism I used to get from people that had a lot of children: they said, 'The house looked too neat. Our house never looked that neat with all those kids.'"