Ralph Waite, Papa Walton on ‘The Waltons,’ Dead at 85

Ralph Waite, Papa Walton on 'The Waltons,' Dead at 85

Waite passed away this afternoon, his church confirms

Ralph Waite, a prolific television actor who found fame in middle age playing John Walton, Sr. – Papa Walton – on the CBS series “The Waltons,” has died. He was 85.

Waite died around 2 p.m. Thursday, his church told TheWrap. No cause of death was immediately given.

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The White Plains, N.Y., native served in the Marine Corps and had a variety of occupations — including as a Presbyterian minister and a social worker — before dabbling in theater in the early 1960s. He was already in his 30s when he made it to Broadway, including a starring turn opposite Faye Dunaway in “Hogan's Goat.”

From there he was emboldened to move West, appearing on stage and screen, including roles in “Cool Hand Luke” and “Five Easy Pieces.”

But it wasn't until “The Waltons” that Waite found fame. Playing Depression-era homesteader John Walton, Waite, in his mid-40s by the time the show started in 1971, directed several episodes of the series that would thrive for nine seasons on CBS.

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Besides taking numerous roles in television, Waite ran unsuccessfully for Congress in California three times as a Democrat. Waite remained a working actor until late last year, appearing in episodes of “Bones,” “NCIS” and “Days of Our Lives.”

Though he'd been out of organized religion some 50 years — since his minister days — he returned in 2010, becoming an active member of Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship in Palm Desert, Calif.

After John Boy, Waite is the second actor to appear in the show's iconic opening, which you can see in the video below:

  • http://www.legacydocumentaries.com Dean Butler

    Ralph Waite led a very talented Waltons cast through nine seasons on CBS and MOWs in later years on NBC. Heartfelt condolences to all members of the Waltons television family.

  • Bellz Webster

    Rest in Peace Ralph. You were a wonderful actor. Many thanks for your all your wonderful roles. You will be missed as Jackson Gibbs on NCIS.

  • Angela Gromacki

    Rest in Peace Ralph I grew up watching you on the Waltons and loved you on NCIS

  • Bren Pearce

    Prayer to your family & friends, you were loved by many on the Walton's .

  • Thomas

    Whoever wrote this must not know the show. No one on the show ever calls him Papa Walton. He's Daddy to the kids. For the sake of credibility change the wording.

    • Annabella

      Well said Thomas a true fan of the Walton's would know this

  • Lizabeth S. Tucker

    It was such a joy to watch him as Jackson Gibbs on NCIS and Booth's grandfather on Bones.

  • Isaac G. Hayne


  • Amanda


  • mydogtaz2

    as i to watched “the waltons” growing up….i feel i have lost a family member…rest in peace raplh, you will be missed…………..

  • Annabella

    Wow what an amazing man Ralph Waite was . He was such an inspiration to me and after watching every episode of the Walton's even helped me to raise my own children. He will be sadly missed but never forgotten . Good night ralph

  • Kriegar

    Holy hell It's a rough week!

    That was three-can it stop now?

  • Kriegar

    Daddy, not “Papa”.

  • Super Fan

    Shame on these writers . . . . Ralph Waite was referred to as “Daddy” on the show. This is a sad tribute.

  • Brendett

    A Tribute episode please With The WALTON please honor the man!

  • Meredith

    Well said. I thought ‘papa’ walton was wrong, too, He will always be ‘Daddy'. I enjoyed seeing him on ‘NCIS’ these past years. There was nothing fake about this actor. Farewell, Ralph Waite. You will be missed.

  • Jim Bennett

    It started in “1971”?
    I don't think so.
    Someone goofed.

  • Candith Layne Padgett

    I loved the Walton's and Ralph as Jackson Gibbs on NCIS Both are my favorite shows Ralph Waite you where a beloved actor. God rest your sainted soul. May the almighty Lord send down his Guardian Angels to watch over Ralph Waite's family on air and off air. Ton's of Love and Prayers go out to your family. U will be greatly missed. Good bye Daddy Walton.