June 23, 2015 / 4:12 PM / 4 years ago

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

(Reuters) - 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.

Actor Dick Van Patten attends a reception before the Hollywood Christmas Parade in Hollywood, in this file photo taken November 27, 2005. REUTERS/Phil McCarten/Files

Van Patten died at a Santa Monica, California, hospital of complications from diabetes, according to his representative, Jeffrey Ballard.

The actor, 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 of entertainers and got his first Broadway role at age 7 in 1935. As an adult, he became a familiar face on television shows and in films.

Stardom came with “Eight Is Enough” in 1977 as he played Tom Bradford, a 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 ABC.

He described “Eight Is Enough” as a “big, loving and goofy family.” It mixed comedy and drama while focusing on the young characters coming of age. It touched on controversial issues such as drugs, race, sex and other topics previous generations of TV shows shunned.

Van Patten’s character endured the death of his first wife and a new marriage, as well as the endless 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.”

He guest-starred on “The Love Boat,” “Arrested Development” and many other TV shows. His most recent TV role came in a 2011 episode of “Hot In Cleveland.”

Van Patten also appeared in several Mel Brooks comedy movies, including “Spaceballs.” Like Brooks, he was a fan of horse racing who could often be seen at Santa Anita racetrack in Southern California.

In his autobiography, Van Patten said betting on horses became an addiction in his early years. He had gone to the track since boyhood and would later own racehorses but said he learned to moderate his gambling.

Show business remained a family affair for the actor, who was married for 62 years to Patricia Van Patten. The couple’s sons Nels, James and Vincent are actors, as is Van Patten’s sister, Joyce.

Reporting and writing by Will Dunham in Washington; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bill Trott

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