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Alice Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

"Alice" was a popular sitcom that ran from 1976 to 1985, and it's easy to see why it lasted as long as it did. Everyone loves an underdog story, and TV audiences rooted for Alice, a single mother who worked at a diner while raising a teenage son and dreaming of a singing career. Linda Lavin, who played Alice, also sang the show's catchy theme song, "There's a New Girl in Town."

The hit CBS show was based on the 1974 film "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," in which Ellen Burstyn gave an Oscar-winning performance as the title character. Burstyn set up the project at Warner Bros. and picked the then up-and-coming Martin Scorsese to direct. The film opened to good reviews and helped put Scorsese on the Hollywood map, but it's the television show that people best remember today.

"Alice" took the story in a much lighter direction. It had a strong ensemble cast that included the likes of Polly Holliday, Beth Howland, Vic Tayback, and Philip McKeon. While several "Alice" alumni are still alive today, we've said goodbye to many of them since the show wrapped. Here are the "Alice" actors you may not know passed away.

Beth Howland (Vera Louise Gorman)

One of the most beloved "Alice" characters was Vera Louise Gorman, played by Beth Howland. Vera was an affable ditz who Mel (owner of Mel's Diner, where the show's title character worked) often called "Dingy." A native of Boston, Howland got her start on Broadway after moving to New York. She performed in "Bye Bye Birdie," "Once Upon a Mattress," and Stephen Sondheim's "Company." She eventually moved on to TV guest spots, appearing in the likes of "Love, American Style," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and "Eight Is Enough."

Howland was nominated for best supporting actress at the Golden Globes four years running, but she lost out each time. After "Alice" went off the air, she made appearances in the likes of "Murder, She Wrote" and "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," and she also had a voice-over role on "Batman Beyond."

Howland died of lung cancer on December 31, 2015, her husband (actor Charles Kimbrough) would later confirm to The Associated Press. At her request, her death was not revealed to the media until May 2016, days before what would have been her 75th birthday. Howland also insisted on no funeral or services when she passed, Kimbrough revealed. "That was her choice," he said.

Vic Tayback (Mel Sharples)

Mel Sharples was the ever-grouchy owner of the Arizona diner where Alice toiled away. A successful sitcom needs an annoying boss, landlord, neighbor, or pest to create conflict, and Mel was a great comedy antagonist. Even though he could be a hard boss at times, he was a likable curmudgeon that viewers grew to love.

Vic Tayback played the character in the original movie, and he reprised the role for the show, the only actor to do so. The New Yorker had been in the business for a long time when he landed the part. He started in low-budget films like "Door to Door Maniac" and "T-Bird Gang" before moving up to more respectable fare, like guest appearances on "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and "Star Trek." He would go on to land featured roles in the likes of "Bullitt," "Papillon," "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot," and "The Gambler."

Tayback's Mel became such a popular character that the actor was nominated for three Golden Globes, winning on two occasions: He scooped best supporting actor in a TV show in 1980 and again in 1981. Tayback died of a heart attack in 1990 at the age of 60, per the Los Angeles Times.

Marvin Kaplan (Henry Beesmeyer)

Henry Beesmeyer, played by veteran character actor Marvin Kaplan, was a regular customer at Mel's Diner. Henry worked for the phone company, and he brought a nebbish charm to the show. A native of Brooklyn, Kaplan was discovered by Hollywood icon Katharine Hepburn, who saw him performing in a play. Hepburn then got him a small role in the movie "Adam's Rib," and his career took off. He primarily did guest appearances on television but secured some smaller roles in films like "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and "Lookin' Up," his final credit. Kaplan also lent his distinctive voice to cartoon shows like "Top Cat," "The Smurfs," and "Johnny Bravo."

"Marvin was the face that everyone recognized," Gabrielle Carteris, the one-time head of the Screen Actor's Guild, told Variety after Kaplan died of natural causes in 2016 at the age of 89. "He was your kindly neighbor, your favorite uncle, or, as he was on the sitcom 'Alice,' a 'regular guy' phone company employee and the favorite coffee shop customer. Marvin was one of the most recognizable character actors of his generation, and a proud union activist and leader. We are forever grateful for the gift of his work and his service to our members."

Dave Madden (Earl Hicks)

Dave Madden was known for his turn as prickly band manager Reuben Kincaid on "The Partridge Family," but he also had a memorable recurring role on "Alice." The Ontario native played Earl Hicks, Tommy's basketball coach. As Madden told "The Partridge Family" fan site Cmon Get Happy, Earl was initially a guest role. "The producers liked what I did so much that they decided to make me a semi-regular," he explained. "I ended up doing about 70 to 80 episodes. It was a whole different kind of show. It was done before a live audience. It was like doing a one-act play."

Madden got his big break as a regular performer on the sketch show "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" and went on to make appearances in "Bewitched," "Barney Miller," "Happy Days," and "The Love Boat," among others. The Canadian became a romantic foil on "Alice," at first as a boyfriend of Flo. He then began dating Alice herself before settling down and marrying a girl named Marge. His character was a father figure to Tommy, who looked up to him as a mentor. Madden died in 2014 at the age of 82. The cause of death was congestive heart and kidney failure, his agent told TMZ.

Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg)

Sorrell Booke is best known for playing corrupt politician Boss Hogg on the classic sitcom "The Dukes of Hazzard," but the actor portrayed his most famous character on other TV shows, too. He appeared as the underhanded commissioner of Hazzard County on "The CBS Saturday Morning Preview Special" in 1983, and, later that year, he popped up in the "Alice" episode "Mel is Hogg-Tied."

Booke would be forever associated with his gluttonous villain after "The Dukes of Hazzard" became a major hit for CBS, but he was nothing like the character in real life. Per the Los Angeles Times, the affable actor attended Columbia and learned his craft at the prestigious Yale School of Drama. "Acting is acting, whether you are doing Hazzard or Hamlet," he once said.

He was seen in films like the original "Freaky Friday" and "The Other Side of Midnight," and he had roles on TV shows like "Guiding Light" and "Soap" before he took on the role of Hogg. Booke died of cancer in 1994 at the age of 64.

Philip McKeon (Tommy Hyatt)

Another key component of the show was the character Tommy, Alice's son, played by Philip McKeon. Some of the best episodes of "Alice" dealt with Tommy's growing pains and Alice's struggles raising him as a single mother. Alfred Lutter played Tommy in the movie and initially reprised the role, but McKeon took over following the pilot episode.

McKeon is the brother of another famous TV star, Nancy McKeon, who played Jo on "The Facts of Life." Like many sitcom moms, Linda Lavin developed a bond with McKeon as if he was her own son. "Philip was the endearing, loving boy, always willing and eager to connect with others," she told People. "Although we were performing a show, the dynamic of creating that relationship made our connection very real and deep. He taught me how to be a good mom, just by being the wondrous boy he was."

After his "Alice" heyday, McKeon had roles on shows like "CHiPs," "Fantasy Island," and "The Love Boat." In terms of feature films, he popped up in "Return to Horror High," "Red Surf," and "Sandman" before he reinvented himself with a radio career: McKeon worked for KFWB, a Los Angeles news station. He died in 2019 at the age of 55 following a lengthy, undisclosed illness. "We are all beyond heartbroken and devastated over Phil's passing," his agent told People.

Forrest Tucker (Edsel Jarvis Castleberry)

Forrest Tucker is best known for playing the crafty cavalry soldier Sgt. O'Rourke on the '60s sitcom "F-Troop," but younger viewers may remember him as Flo's absentee father Edsel Jarvis Castleberry on "Alice." Edsel trying to reunite with Flo was one of the most poignant arcs on the show, with Flo torn over whether to rekindle her relationship with her father. They did finally come to terms, and in 1980, Tucker appeared in the spin-off series "Flo." He had a prominent role in the two-part episode "A Castleberry Thanksgiving."

A native of Indiana, Tucker started performing at the age of 14. He made his feature film debut in "The Westerner" in 1940 and went on to secure roles in "The Yearling," "Sands of Iwo Jima," and "Auntie Mame," the latter of which showed that he had a gift for comedy. The film led him to "F-Troop," the kids show "The Ghost Busters" (not to be confused with the big screen comedy classic), and, of course, "Alice" and" Flo." He died of cancer in 1986, The New York Times confirmed. He was 67.

Martha Raye (Carrie Sharples)

If you ever wondered why Mel was such a piece of work, well, the apple didn't fall far from the tree. His mother, Carrie Sharples (played by comedian and screen veteran Martha Raye), was a sharp-tongued woman who would often drive him up the wall. Raye had a long and storied career before she joined the "Alice" crew, making her name on Broadway and as a featured player at Paramount. The three-time Emmy winner also became known as the female Bob Hope, performing in USO shows in England and, later, in Africa.

Raye plied her trade on a lot of television shows in the 1970s. Before joining "Alice," the Montana native co-starred on the likes of "The Bugaloos" and "McMillan & Wife." Raye's "Alice" character was a great foil for Mel, proving that a pain-in-the-butt parent is one of the best components of a successful sitcom. She died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in 1994, aged 78. "Her death follows a lengthy illness," a spokesperson for the hospital told the Los Angeles Times.

The actor who played Alice is still active to this day

While several members of the "Alice" cast have sadly passed away, the actor who played the title character is thankfully still with us. When "Alice" came to an end, Linda Lavin kept working steadily on TV and is still active to this day — she performed concerts from her living room during the coronavirus pandemic. "I'm willing to advocate for myself," she told CBS in 2020. "Sometimes people don't think of you. They don't know you're here. I'm still here! They don't know you're alive! You gotta let 'em know."

Polly Holliday, who played sassy waitress Flo Castleberry, is also still alive. Holliday left "Alice" to star in the spin-off "Flo" in the late 1970s, but the show only lasted one season. She bounced back with featured roles in films such as "Gremlins" and "Mrs. Doubtfire," and she also popped up in shows like "The Golden Girls," "Homicide: Life on the Streets," and "Home Improvement," playing Patricia Richardson's mother.