Sitcom Dads

by Legacy Staff

Sitcom dads: They trip, they stumble and they’re often the butt of jokes. But they also work hard, dispense wisdom and make plenty of jokes of their own. From Ward Cleaver and Andy Taylor to Bernie Mac and Paul Hennessy, their roles and personalities changed with the decades, but most were hard-working role models who loved their children and, in nearly every episode, sat them down and tried to give them their best advice. Take a look back at photos of our favorite sitcom dads.

Max Wright (1943–2019) 

Everett Collection / Alien Productions

A Tony-nominated actor, Max Wright (1943–2019) was best known for his role as patriarch WILLIE TANNER on NBC sitcom “ALF.” From 1986 to 1990, Wright played straight man to the “alien life form” title character, a puppet operated by Paul Fusco.

View Max Wright’s obituary


Alan Thicke (1947–2016)

Getty Images / ABC

Canadian actor Alan Thicke (1947–2016) played DR. JASON SEAVER for seven seasons (1985-1992) on the sitcom “Growing Pains.” Dr. Seaver was a psychiatrist who works from home since his wife Maggie went back to work as a reporter. Being at home gives him more involvement with the lives of their three children which include budding ladies man Mike (Kirk Cameron), honor student Carol (Tracey Gold) and rambunctious Ben (Jeremy Miller). Though the kids go through many growing pains, Dr. Seaver manages to keep the family together.

View Alan Thicke’s obituary

Dick Van Patten (1928–2015)

Getty Images / ABC / Jim Britt

TOM BRADFORD, the patriarch of the extra-large Bradford clan in “Eight is Enough,” was named one of TV Guide’s “50 Greatest Dads of All Time” in 2004. Dick Van Patten (1928–2015) was proud to play the role, saying that “On ‘Eight Is Enough,’ we dealt with real problems.”

View Dick Van Patten’s obituary

Andy Griffith (1926–2012) 

Getty Images / Silver Screen Collection

ANDY TAYLOR was the iconic kindly small-town sheriff played by Andy Griffith (1926–2012) on “The Andy Griffith Show” for 249 episodes. As are many sitcom dads, Taylor was a widower; he raised his son, Opie, with the help of Aunt Bee. Whether he was whistling a tune, giving advice, going fishing or strumming his guitar, Taylor was an iconic TV father in his role as Opie’s “Pa.”

Read more about Andy Griffith

Robert Reed (1932–1992)

Getty Images / CBS

MIKE BRADY was the “man named Brady who was living with three boys of his own,” as “The Brady Bunch” theme song described him. Played by Robert Reed (1932–1992), he was a father to all six children in the show’s blended family, wearing 1970s clothes but working hard and dispensing wisdom like sitcom dads had been doing for decades.

View 1970s Sitcom Stars gallery

James Avery (1948–2013)

Getty Images / NBC / Gary Null

JUDGE PHILIP BANKS, played by James Avery (1948–2013) on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” ranks among TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time.” The father of Ashley and Carlton, he also provided a paternal figure to nephew Will, who in return mercilessly made him the butt of jokes.

Read James Avery’s obituary

Tom Bosley (1927–2010)

Getty Images / ABC

HOWARD CUNNINGHAM, Richie and Joanie’s dad on “Happy Days,” was another classic 1950s dad, but seen through the lens of the 1970s. A bit more bumbling, he was nonetheless wise and beloved, both by the other characters and by the audience. Tom Bosley (1927–2010), actually the second choice for the role, made it his own during the show’s 10-year run.

Read more about Tom Bosley

Carroll O’Connor (1924–2001)

Getty Images / CBS

ARCHIE BUNKER may have been a bigoted, sexist, grumpy curmudgeon, but he was a loving father to his daughter, Gloria, if not to his “meathead” son-in-law, Michael. Carroll O’Connor (1924–2001) won four Emmy Awards for playing Archie on the 1970s sitcom “All in the Family.”

View All in the Family gallery

Hugh Beaumont (1909–1982)

Getty Images / CBS

WARD CLEAVER was the idealized portrait of a 1950s dad on the classic sitcom “Leave It to Beaver,” reading the newspaper in the morning and coming home from work at the end of the day to give the boys a stern lecture on ethics, tempered by gentle humor. Played by Hugh Beaumont (1909–1982) for the show’s seven-year run, Ward Cleaver was named one of TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time” in 2004.

Read more about Hugh Beaumont

BERNIE MAC (1957–2008)

Everett Collection / 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

BERNIE MAC (1957–2008) played a character of the same name loosely based on himself on the Fox sitcom “The Bernie Mac Show” from 2001 to 2006. The uncle of three children, he was their strong father figure throughout the show’s run, mixing wisecracks with tough love and earnest displays of emotion

Read more about Bernie Mac

Buddy Ebsen (1908–2003)

Getty Images / CBS

JED CLAMPETT, played by actor Buddy Ebsen (1908–2003), was the “poor mountaineer” who struck it rich in oil and moved his family west in the great 1960s fish-out-of-water sitcom, “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Jed parented Elly Mae and nephew Jethro with good-natured common sense in the strange world of California.

Read more about Buddy Ebsen

Conrad Bain (1923–2013)

Getty Images / NBC / Herb Ball

PHIL DRUMMOND, the wealthy widower who cared for adopted sons Arnold and Willis Jackson alongside his daughter, Kimberly, on the 1980s sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” was played by Emmy-winner Conrad Bain (1923–2013).

Read more about Diff’rent Strokes

Alan Reed (1907–1977)

Getty Images / ABC

Yabba-dabba-doo! Nearly everyone knows prehistoric dad FRED FLINTSTONE, the larger-than-life father of Pebbles on the animated sitcom “The Flintstones.” Based on Jackie Gleason’s (1916 – 1987) characters on “The Honeymooners” and “Life of Riley,” Fred was voiced by Alan Reed (1907–1977) for the prime-time ABC series from 1960 to 1966.

Read more about Jackie Gleason

John Ritter (1948–2003)

Getty Images / ABC / Bob D’Amico

In the short time John Ritter (1948–2003) played PAUL HENNESSY on the ABC sitcom “8 Simple Rules,” he established one of the great sitcom dads: Overprotective of his daughters, he embarrasses them and terrorizes their would-be boyfriends to hilarious effect, but he does so out of his love for his children.

Read more about John Ritter

Fred Gwynne (1926–1993)

Getty Images / Silver Screen Collection

HERMAN MUNSTER probably wins the prize for the weirdest sitcom dad: a naive Frankenstein’s monster who stumbles, bumbles and throws tantrums, but has a kind heart full of love for his similarly weird family. Fred Gwynne (1926–1993) played “The Munsters” patriarch under tons of makeup and costuming.

Read more about Fred Gwynne

Ozzy Nelson (1906–1975)

Getty Images / CBS

OZZIE NELSON and the rest of the Nelson clan played fictionalized versions of themselves for 14 years on ABC’s “Ozzie and Harriet,” with a radio version of the classic sitcom going back to the 1940s. Like Ward Cleaver, Nelson was portrayed as a perfect image of 1950s fatherhood, full of wise, paternal advice despite a slightly bumbling presence. The real-life Ozzy Nelson (1906–1975) started out as a singer and, after the show, continued working on TV as a producer until his death.

Read more about Ozzy Nelson

Fred MacMurray (1908–1991)

Getty Images / ABC

Fred MacMurray (1908–1991) played widower STEVEN DOUGLAS, a warm and wise father heading up an all-male household, on “My Three Sons” from 1960 to 1972, making the show one of the longest-running sitcoms in television history.

Read more about Fred MacMurray

Robert Young (1907–1998) 

Getty Images / Screen Gems

Starting out on the radio in 1949 and moving to television from 1954 to 1960, Robert Young (1907–1998) played JIM ANDERSON on “Father Knows Best.” Though the character was quite sarcastic when the show was on the radio, he mellowed into the sage patriarch of an idyllic TV family.

Read more about Robert Young

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