Barely 24-hours since we reported the death of TV icon Ralph Waite, who recently starred in “NCIS” and the daytime drama “Days of Our Lives.” However, Waite was best known and beloved in the role of John Walton, the saw-mill operator in the rolling hills of Central Virginia, where I grew up. Ralph touched millions of lives as the moral, strong, always fair Pa Walton, however, his costars are devastated by his death, and we spoke with beautiful acclaimed actress Judy Norton, who was lucky enough to play his eldest daughter Mary Ellen Walton on the hit CBS 1970s series, created by the legendary Earl Hamner.
His costars are understandably in grief. However, they also respect the fans so much, that they have been willing to speak openly about their love, admiration and affection for Ralph. Thanking us for paying tribute to her TV Daddy, Judy Norton tells Highlight Hollywood on Friday afternoon, “Ralph was an amazing actor and a very special man. As John Walton he embodied all that is best in a father – he was strong, loving, honest, loyal, not to mention the twinkle in what he grinningly referred to as his (“baby blues.”) He was a co-worker, a friend, and the best TV Dad I could have asked for. I am so grateful to have had him in my life for over 40 years. He touched my life as he did all the millions of viewers over the years. I will miss him dearly. Goodnight, Daddy.”
Waite was twice nominated for an Emmy, first in 1977 for supporting actor in a comedy or drama series for “Roots” and the next year as lead actor in a drama for his Waltons’ role.
Waite also tried his hand at politics, running unsuccessfully as a Democrat for a U.S. representative seat that includes Palm Springs — narrowly losing in 1990 and again in 1998 to Mary Bono, the widow of former congressman and “Sonny and Cher” star Sonny Bono.
These forays didn’t stop Waite from continuing his day job, however. He continued to score regular roles, for instance, on TV shows like “The Mississippi,” “Murder One,” “Carnivale,” “The Practice” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” In fact, Waite was busy working right through last year playing recurring characters on not only “Bones” and “NCIS” but also “Days of Our Lives.”
“Waltons” creator Earl Hamner said in a written statement: “I have just learned that we have lost Ralph Waite. This sudden news is shocking and heartbreaking. Ralph’s portrayal of my father on “The Waltons” was so true, so genuine and so close to the real man that it is like losing my father all over again. Actors have great gifts to give and his gift to me was an image of my father that I will cherish always. Thank you, Ralph and Good Night.”
Stephan Nathan, “Bones” executive producer, remembered Waites as “a wonderful man.” “A big loss,” Nathan tweeted. “RIP.” Pauley Perrette, part of the “NCIS” cast, also tweeted condolences for the man she referred to as Papa Gibbs.
“We love him at NCIS SO much,” Perrette said. “So, so sad.”