Actor Jerry Van Dyke passed away on Jan. 5 at the age of 86. Van Dyke died with his wife, Shirley Ann Jones, at his side. According to Jones, he never fully recovered from a terrible car wreck he was in more than two years ago.
Van Dyke was the younger brother of beloved TV icon Dick Van Dyke, but achieved quite a bit of fame in his own rite. Like his brother, Jerry Van Dyke was known for being an actor and comedian—so clearly, a knack for entertaining runs in the family.
His love for comedy began at an early age. He set his mind to becoming a comedian and entertainer, and the rest was history.
“I couldn’t do anything else,” he joked to USA Today in 1990, according to the New York Times. “I decided to be a comedian at eight years old and didn’t tend to my studies in school. Had I known how to do anything else, I would have quit. Many times.”
Because he never gave up on his dream, these are just a few things Van Dyke accomplished in his career:
1. A Sitcom Star
Van Dyke’s career really hit its stride when he landed the role of assistant football coach Luther Van Dam in the Emmy Award-winning ABC series “Coach.” The role of Luther became Van Dyke’s most well known and enduring. The show began in 1989 and ran until 1997. The show was nearly rebooted on NBC last year before plans ultimately fell through.
2. Stand-Up Comedy
Van Dyke performed stand-up comedy starting in the early ’60s. One of his earliest appearances was on his brother’s “The Dick Van Dyke” show in 1962, where he performed a routine with a banjo. He would go on to appear on the popular show several more times during its run.
3. Talk Show Appearances
Including his work on “Coach” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” Van Dyke made many TV talk show appearances in his career, going on “The Judy Garland Show” and “Late Night with David Letterman” among others. He may not have really made it “big” until later in his career, but in the clip below you can see him joke about it with Letterman.
“You make it older, it’s easier, because you [don’t] have to worry—I’d probably have screwed it up anyway if I’d made it,” he told Letterman. “But you make it as an older [person], then people know you as being older…. If I’d had made it earlier, people would say, ‘Look how old he’s got.’ So I was old going in. I want to be like Walter Brennan; no one ever said, ‘Walter Brennan’s gotten old.’ He was born old.”
4. Advertising Spokesman
In the late ’90s, Ohio-based retailer Big Lots hired Van Dyke to be its spokesperson. He appeared in funny ads for the retail chain for years and was brought back for a second run of ads for the company in 2003, according to AdWeek.
5. Work With His Brother
Van Dyke seemed to enjoy his brother’s major success. In fact, he had a sense of humor about it. “I’m getting sick of Dick riding on my coattails,” he reportedly joked to The Toronto Star in 1994. “I just can’t prop up his career forever.”
Show business aside, these two were brothers, and their work together stands out. The two sang a duet in ABC’s “The Middle,” and it made for a very sweet moment. Considering it was the last TV performance of Jerry Van Dyke’s career makes it all the more touching to rewatch today.
We’re remembering this great entertainer and wishing all the best to Van Dyke’s family.