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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

R.I.P. Tom Bosley, America's TV dad

Illustration for article titled R.I.P. Tom Bosley, America's TV dad

Mere days after America lost its TV mom, Happy Days dad Tom Bosley has died. He was 83. (The story first emerged via unsubstantiated Twitter reports, but TMZ has now confirmed through family members that Bosley died after battling a staph infection.)


Bosley got his start on the stage, most notably playing the Tony Award-winning role of New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1959’s Fiorello!, then broke into movies in the early ‘60s. He courted Natalie Wood in 1963’s Love With The Proper Stranger and had a supporting role in Peter Sellers’ The World Of Henry Orient, but his true home was television, where he consistently turned up on classic shows like Car 54, Where Are You?, Marcus Welby, M.D., Get Smart, The Defenders, The Mod Squad, Bewitched, Mission: Impossible, and Bonanza. In 1969, he landed his first major recurring role on The Debbie Reynolds Show, playing the boss to Reynolds’ sportswriter husband—a part similar to the one he played on The Sandy Duncan Show, where he played the boss at Duncan’s advertising agency.

From 1970 to 1973, Bosley starred in three episodes of the anthology series Love, American Style—most notably in the segment “Love And The Old-Fashioned Father,” which gave rise to the primetime animated sitcom Wait Till Your Father Gets Home: On the show Bosley voiced a working-class everyman who’s forced to contend with his hippie kids, a precursor to what would be his most famous role.

Bosley did not, however, star in the Love, American Style episode that would eventually spawn the series’ most successful spin-off: In the episode “Love And The Happy Days,” fellow longtime character actor Harold Gould (who also died recently) played the part of the loving patriarch to the Cunningham family. But when Gould chose to travel with a stage production rather than star in the series, producers moved on to Bosley. For 10 years, Bosley played the hardware store-owning, bowling-loving, frequently easy-chair-bound Howard “Mr. C” Cunningham, a man who represented a stodgily middle-class opposite to the teenage rebellion happening all around him. Bosley’s gently cantankerous relationship with his wife and the kids, particularly his frequent sparring partner The Fonz, would serve as a model for generations of TV dads to come, while Bosley himself remained one of the series’ few steadfast characters, his familiar “Happy Days is filmed before a live audience” intro sticking with the show until its very end.

Immediately after Happy Days ended in 1984, Bosley landed another recurring role on Murder, She Wrote, playing the long-suffering Sheriff Amos Tupper, whose cases were constantly being upended by the interference of Angela Lansbury’s meddling mystery novelist. This led to Bosley inheriting what would come to be the defining role of the latter half of his career, playing the titular character in NBC’s Father Dowling Mysteries, as a Catholic priest who is, for some reason, always coming across murders, kidnappings, and other crimes that only he can solve.  On the show, Bosley played both Father Frank Dowling and his identical twin Blaine, a thief and con artist who would frequently turn up to frame Father Dowling for his crimes.

After Father Dowling ended in 1991, Bosley continued contributing small parts to various sitcoms and TV movies while often working as a voiceover artist for various cartoons and holiday specials, but he was perhaps best known as a frequent TV spokesman. Among his most famous endorsements were his commercials for Sonic Drive-In, D-Con, and, of course, Glad Trash Bags.

He also contributed mightily to the world of found footage with the Tom Bosley Workout.

Bosley’s last on-screen appearance was in this year’s The Back-Up Plan, playing the longtime fiancée of Jennifer Lopez’s grandmother.