Ralph Waite (June 22, 1928 – February 13, 2014) was an American actor, voice artist, and political activist, best known for his role as John Walton, Sr. on The Waltons, which he occasionally directed. In addition, Waite appeared in many guest roles on numerous television series, most recently in a recurring role in NCIS as the father of Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
Waite, the eldest of five children, was born in White Plains, New York on June 22, 1928, to Ralph H. Waite, a construction engineer, and Esther (née Mitchell) Waite. Too young for World War II, Waite served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1946-48, then graduated from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He worked briefly as a social worker. Waite earned a master’s degree from Yale University Divinity School and was an ordained Presbyterian minister and religious editor at Harper & Row, New York City before deciding on an acting career. He was a member of the Peninsula Players summer theater program during the 1963 season.
Waite made his Broadway debut in Blues for Mister Charlie, and would work on and off-Broadway steadily throughout the 1960s.
Later stage work
Waite scored a personal triumph when he created the role of Will Kidder in the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Young Man from Atlanta, by playwright Horton Foote, in 1995.
Waite was married three times, two marriages ending in divorce. He had three daughters from his first marriage. His eldest daughter, Sharon Waite, died of leukemia when she was 9 years old in 1964. Liam Waite, one of Waite’s stepsons, is also an actor. After 50 years away from organized religion, Waite returned in 2010 and became an active member of Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship in Palm Desert, California.
Waite ran unsuccessfully for Congress in California as a Democrat on three occasions: In 1990, he challenged veteran GOP incumbent Al McCandless in the Riverside County-based 37th district, losing by five percentage points. In 1998, Waite ran in the special election for the then-Palm Springs-based 44th district left vacant by the death of incumbent Sonny Bono. He was defeated in that election by Mary Bono, Sonny’s widow, and lost to her again that November.
On October 21, 1991, Waite introduced then-former California Governor Jerry Brown prior to the latter’s speech announcing his candidacy for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination.
On February 13, 2014, Waite died peacefully in Palm Desert, California of age-related illnesses at age 85. He was buried at the White Plains Rural Cemetery, White Plains, Westchester County, New York.
- June, 22, 1928
- White Plains, New York
- February, 13, 2014
- Palm Desert, California
Cause of Death
- Age-related illnesses
- White Plains Rural Cemetery
- White Plains,New York
- United States