Eight Is Enough Actors You Might Not Know Passed Away

The popular comedy-drama series "Eight is Enough," which ran for five seasons on ABC between 1977 and 1981, is perhaps best remembered today for its sunny depiction of a large family, the Bradfords. Led by columnist Tom (Dick Van Patten), the family of eight lives in Sacramento, California. The series generated a quartet of teen idols: Grant Goodeve (eldest son David), Willie Aames (middle kid Tommy), Adam Rich (the youngest Nicholas), and Ralph Macchio (Abby's nephew Jeremy). The series generated 112 episodes before falling to declining ratings, though two reunion TV movies (1987's "Eight is Enough: A Family Reunion" and 1989's "An Eight is Enough Wedding") followed.

Though the Bradfords were the focus of "Eight is Enough," the series also introduced a host of recurring and supporting characters who orbited their adventures. Many of those performers — and indeed, most of the original cast — remain active today. Others have exited the business or passed away, which is not surprising given that the series ended four decades ago. These are the actors from "Eight is Enough" you might not know died.

Dick Van Patten (Tom Bradford)

The patriarch of the Bradford family, newspaper columnist Tom Bradford Sr. was based on real-life journalist and television host Tom Braden, whose autobiographical book "Eight is Enough" served as the inspiration for the ABC series. Tom Bradford presided over a chaotic but loving household for five seasons. His gentle hand with his sizable brood earned him a spot on TV Guide's list of the 50 Greatest Dads of All Time in 2014 (via TV Week).

Well-loved character actor Dick Van Patten played Tom Bradford on all five seasons of "Eight is Enough" and reprised the role for the two reunion TV movies in 1987 and 1989. Van Patten was a showbiz veteran: He made his debut on Broadway at the age of 7 and starred in several TV shows in the 1950s before earning his breakout role as Nels on the CBS series "Mama," which ran from 1949 to 1957.

Adept at both comedy and drama, Van Patten became a go-to guest star and supporting player in features and on television. His feature credits include "Charly," "Westworld," "Joe Kidd," and several Disney live-action films, including the original "Freaky Friday." He also forged a long-running collaborative relationship with Mel Brooks, which led to appearances in "Spaceballs" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights."

Van Patten remained active in his later years as a performer on series like "Arrested Development" while also presiding over a successful holistic pet food company, Natural Balance Pet Foods. He published his autobiography, "Eighty is Not Enough," in 2009. Van Patten died of complications from Type 2 diabetes at the age of 86 in June 2015.

Michael Thoma (Greg Maxwell)

Actor and educator Michael Thoma played Tom Bradford's best friend Dr. Greg Maxwell in 23 episodes of "Eight is Enough." Thoma was a graduate of the esteemed American Academy of Dramatic Acts — his classmates included Grace Kelly and Don Rickles — and he later taught at the Academy while also pursuing a career on Broadway. He served as production supervisor or stage manager for many major productions, including the original runs of "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Oh! Calcutta!"

Thoma's screen career kicked off in the 1970s while he served as administrator and later director of the Academy's West Coast campus. A guest star on series like "The Rockford Files" and "The Bionic Woman," Thoma came to "Eight is Enough" in its debut episode, "Never Try Eating Nectarines Since Juice May Disperse," and returned to the show on multiple occasions. When "Eight is Enough" concluded its network run, Thoma enjoyed a recurring role on "Fame" as drama teacher Mr. Crandall.

Thoma's character was sent off from "Fame" in a moving episode that also generated a hit single, "Starmaker," which reached the Top 40 in the United Kingdom in 1983. Thoma, who left the series during a two-year bout with cancer, died of the disease at the age of 55 on September 3, 1982.

Virginia Vincent (Daisy Maxwell)

Television viewers enjoyed performances by Virginia Vincent for decades prior to her first appearance as Greg Maxwell's wife Daisy in Season 1 of "Eight is Enough." Vincent reprised the role in eight additional episodes over the next three seasons, ending with Season 4's "I Do, I Do, I Do," and continued to appear on other episodic shows for the next decade.

TV was Vincent's primary showcase throughout her career, though she also appeared on Broadway in the 1950s and in supporting roles in several features, including the noir drama "I Want to Live," "Change of Habit" with Elvis Presley and Mary Tyler Moore, Ted Post's cult horror film "The Baby," and Wes Craven's harrowing hit "The Hills Have Eyes." On the small screen, she played comic Joey Bishop's sister on "The Joey Bishop Show," and she enjoyed recurring roles on "Dragnet 1967," "Peyton Place," and "Perry Mason," among many other guest appearances.

After her "Eight is Enough" run concluded, Vincent reunited with Craven for his 1984 TV movie "Invitation to Hell" and guested on "Simon & Simon" and "Knots Landing." The latter turned out to be her final screen credit: Vincent died of undisclosed causes at the age of 95 on October 3, 2013.

Larry Gelman (Officer Bernstein)

An irrepressible comic presence in dozens of TV shows and features, Larry Gelman played Officer Bernstein in six episodes of "Eight is Enough." His arc on the series began with the Season 2 two-parter "Yes Nicholas, There is a Santa Claus," and concluded with Season 5's "Starting Over." While logging time on "Eight is Enough," Gelman also guest-starred on numerous other series, including "Maude," "Quincy M.E.," "The Love Boat," and "One Day at a Time."

Gelman kept a similarly breathless schedule throughout his long career, which began in the mid-1960s with a turn as Sigmund Freud on the sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie." Short in stature and gifted with both a pliable face and sharp comic timing, he played offbeat or streetwise roles on "The Monkees," "Batman," and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," as well as recurring appearances as Oscar Madison's pal Vinnie on "The Odd Couple" and urologist Bernie Tupperman on "The Bob Newhart Show." He also netted an Emmy nomination as a paranoid man who smashed security cameras in a grocery store in a 1977 episode of "Barney Miller."

Between these assignments, Gelman also turned up in an array of eclectic film projects, ranging from Disney features like "Superdad" and counterculture comedies like "Tunnel Vision" to studio movies like "Dreamscape" and "Mr. Saturday Night," and even oddities like an adults-only musical version of "Alice in Wonderland." He remained active well into the '00s with guest turns on shows like "ER," and he also worked on two entries in the video game franchise "Command & Conquer," which cast him as Albert Einstein. The Brooklyn native died of complications from a fall at the age of 90 on June 7, 2021.

Diana Hyland (Joan Bradford)

Most casual viewers of "Eight is Enough" remember Betty Buckley sharing the parental duties with Dick Van Patten, but another actor briefly played the mother of the Bradford clan. Diana Hyland, who began her screen career in the 1950s, played Joan Bradford in four episodes of Season 1, but her time on the series was cut tragically short when she died of breast cancer on March 27, 1977. Joan Bradford's death was written into the series, and Tom remained a widower until meeting Abby in Season 2.

Hyland was a star on Broadway and in numerous live television broadcasts during the 1950s before settling into regular rotation as a guest star on episodic programs like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "The Twilight Zone," and "The Fugitive." She made occasional forays into features, most notably in 1966's "The Chase" with Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda, but TV remained her most consistent showcase into the 1970s.

Hyland remained active on the small screen throughout the decade, including repeat visits to "Marcus Welby, M.D." and "The F.B.I." She also co-starred as the mother of then-up-and-coming star John Travolta in the 1976 TV movie "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." The two actors became an off-screen couple until her death at the age of 41.

Lani O'Grady (Mary Bradford)

Lani O'Grady, who played Mary Bradford (the eldest of Tom and Joan Bradford's daughters), hailed from a performing family — her brother was actor/musician Don Grady, who starred in the '60s sitcom "My Three Sons." O'Grady began appearing on episodic series like "The High Chaparral" in the late 1960s before landing her first work as a series regular with "Eight is Enough." She remained with the series for its entire five-season run and reprised Mary in both TV movies.

When "Eight is Enough" left the airwaves in 1981, O'Grady continued to work for a brief period, but she then left acting due to mounting health issues. Beginning in her late teens, O'Grady began experiencing severe panic attacks and anxiety, which she attempted to control with prescription drugs. She became addicted to the medication and checked into multiple treatment centers over the years.

O'Grady opted to retire from acting for good and follow in the footsteps of her mother, Mary Grady, who was a Hollywood talent agent for young actors. She returned to treatment in the late 1990s and died in her home in California on September 25, 2001. An autopsy revealed that the 46-year-old had toxic levels of medication, including Vicodin and Prozac, in her system at the time of her death.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

James Karen (Elliot Randolph)

Character actor James Karen, who appeared in three episodes of "Eight is Enough" as Tom's boss Elliot Randolph, was a familiar presence to film and TV viewers for more than a half-century. He began his career on Broadway as an understudy and later cast member of the original Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" with Marlon Brando. He moved into television and low-budget films — including the cult favorite "Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster" — but soon graduated to studio features like "All the President's Men" and "The China Syndrome." During this period, he made his first appearance as Randolph in the "Eight is Enough" Season 3 episode "Just the Ten of Us," and he also began his near-three-decade run as the bespectacled spokesman for the East Coast supermarket chain Pathmark.

The 1980s saw Karen give some of his most memorable performances. He was the duplicitous developer who built the Freeling family's haunted house in "Poltergeist," the mean-spirited businessman who contributed to the destruction of Walnut Grove in "Little House on the Prairie," and the foreman of the medical supply warehouse that launched a zombie apocalypse in "Return of the Living Dead." Karen remained a staple of features and television throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including turns in "Nixon," "Any Given Sunday," "Mulholland Drive," and "The Pursuit of Happyness." Small screen work during this period included recurring roles on "First Monday," "Ned & Stacy," and "The Larry Sanders Show."

Karen, who was a close friend of the legendary silent film comedian Buster Keaton, died at his California home on October 23, 2018. He was 94 years old.

Victoria Racimo (Dr. Kuo)

The two-parter "And Baby Makes Nine," which kicked off Season 5 of "Eight is Enough," is largely devoted to Susan's pregnancy and the complications experienced prior to her delivery. Baby Sandy arrived prematurely and with respiratory problems, which lent some drama to the episodes. It also helped to balance out the episode's curious padding, which consisted of flashbacks to Susan and Merle's relationship culled from previous episodes.

Victoria Racimo played Dr. Kuo in both parts of "And Baby Makes Nine," which came during a very busy period in her career. The former Broadway dancer and Julliard graduate began appearing on television in the 1960s and graduated to features with the counterculture drama "The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart" in 1970. Appearances on "The Mod Squad" and "Kung Fu" led to her most prominent feature film role as a Native American woman battling a giant, mutated bear in John Frankenheimer's cult horror film "Prophecy." She was Native American on her mother's side, she said in 2015.

Racimo continued to act throughout the 1980s, most notably in recurring roles on "The Chisholms" and "Falcon Crest," but later moved behind the camera. She served as executive producer of the 2006 HBO feature "Casi Casi" and directed the 2015 documentary "One Day," which concerned a retirement haven for thoroughbred horses. Racimo died at the age of 69 on November 29, 2020.

Gregory Walcott (Dr. Hammer)

Film and TV actor Gregory Walcott turned up in Season 1's "The Gipper Caper" as Tom's dentist Dr. Hammer, who challenged the Bradfords to a touch football game. For Tom, the game is more than just a friendly competition: It's a chance to get back at Hammer, whose defensive play in a college football game upended Tom's chance for romance with a girlfriend who had wagered a kiss for the home team's win. Naturally, things get out of hand once the Bradfords and Hammers hit the field.

Though perhaps not a household name, Walcott had a long career in features and television. He worked with some of the most acclaimed filmmakers in Hollywood, including John Ford on "Mister Roberts," Steven Spielberg on "The Sugarland Express," and Martin Ritt on "Norma Rae." He also co-starred with Clint Eastwood in several films, including "Joe Kidd" and "Every Which Way But Loose." But to Walcott's dismay (and eventual amusement), he was perhaps best known as the ramrod-straight hero of Ed Wood's disastrous "Plan 9 from Outer Space."

In addition to his film career, Walcott was a frequent guest star on television series, including "Bonanza," "CHiPs," and "Alice." For his final screen appearance, he made peace with his most notorious credit by playing an investor wooed by Johnny Depp's Ed Wood in the Tim Burton biopic of the same name. Walcott died of natural causes at the age of 87 in his home in Canoga Park, California on March 20, 2015.

Louise Latham (Katherine Mitchell)

The arrival of Betty Buckley as Tom's girlfriend and eventual second wife Sandra Sue "Abby" Abbott also brought actors Louise Latham and Dennis Patrick into the fold as her parents, Katherine and Harry. Both made their debut in the two-part Season 2 episode "Children of the Groom," which focused on the emotions experienced by Tom's kids when he decided to marry Abby. Katherine and Harry later returned for Season 3's "All the Vice President's Men," which saw Nicholas invite the Vice President of the United States to the family's Thanksgiving dinner. The couple made their final "Eight is Enough" appearance in Season 3's "Inlaws and Outlaws," in which Katherine arrived at the Bradfords after leaving Harry.

Latham, a native of Hamilton, Texas, rose to fame in the early 1960s when Alfred Hitchcock cast her as the mother of star Tippi Hedren in "Marnie." The fact that Latham was only seven years older than Hedren underscored her versatility, which she showcased in numerous features and on television for the next five decades. Her feature film output included Steven Spielberg's "The Sugarland Express" (with Gregory Walcott) and Jonathan Kaplan's "Love Field." She was more prolific on television as both a guest star on series like "The Fugitive" (she appeared in the final ever episode) and as recurring characters on shows like "Family Affair" (Aunt Fran) and "Designing Women" (Perky).

Latham's turn as a 118-year-old woman on "The X-Files" in 2000 marked her final screen appearance — she died on February 12, 2018, at the age of 95.

Dennis Patrick (Harry Mitchell)

Character actor Dennis Patrick appeared opposite Louise Latham as Harry Mitchell, Katherine's husband and Abby's father. Like his in-show wife, he first popped up in the Season 2 two-parter "Children of the Groom" and returned in Season 3's "All the Vice President's Men" and "Inlaws and Outlaws." A familiar if not immediately identifiable face to TV viewers for decades, Patrick was perhaps best known as Paul Stoddard, who dabbled in demonic favors on the cult gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows." But Patrick's small screen credits reached back to the 1950s when, billed as Dennis Harrison, he appeared on live anthology series like "Studio One."

He went on to ply his trade on shows like "Gunsmoke" and "Lost in Space," and would play recurring characters on "Laramie" and "Perry Mason." Patrick remained active throughout the 1970s and 1980s with his recurring role as the Ewing family's banker on "Dallas" and guest roles on "The Fall Guy," "Simon & Simon," and "Murder, She Wrote." His final small screen appearance came with a 1991 episode of "Coach." The 84-year-old actor died in October 2002 due to a house fire at his Hollywood Hills home.

David Wayne (Matt Bradford)

Season 4 saw the Bradfords head to Hawaii for a family vacation in the two-part episode "Fathers and Other Strangers." While much of the episodes were devoted to the various siblings enjoying fun in the sun, a significant portion also focused on dramatic material anchored by character actor David Wayne as Tom's estranged dad. The arc relied greatly on the talents of Van Patten and Wayne to carry the weight of their troubled relationship.

A two-time Tony winner whose Broadway career included the original run of "Mister Roberts" (for which he was replaced as Ensign Pulver by none other than Dick Van Patten), Wayne was a gifted and versatile player who tackled a diverse array of roles over the course of his long career. His resume includes classic comedies like "Adam's Rib" (with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn), musicals like "How to Marry a Millionaire" (one of four films in which he co-starred with Marilyn Monroe), and classic dramas like "The Three Faces of Eve." Between these efforts, he enjoyed a rare leading role as a child killer in a remake of "M" and a scientist battling a plague in Robert Wise's "Andromeda Strain."

Wayne's TV career produced an Emmy nomination for a 1957 episode of the anthology series "Suspicion." He had guest turns on "The Twilight Zone," "Hawaii Five-O," "Family," and "Batman," in which he played The Mad Hatter. He co-starred in the critically praised medical sitcom "House Calls" from 1978 to 1982 and made his final screen appearance in "Poker Alice," a Western TV movie with a rare turn by Elizabeth Taylor. Lung cancer claimed Wayne's life at the age of 81 on February 9, 1995.

Jack Elam (Joe Simons)

In the Season 3 two-parter "You Won't Have Nicholas to Kick Around Anymore," Adam Rich's Nicholas accidentally caused a house fire which put him in the doghouse with his family. Convinced that the Bradfords would be better off without him, he set off to San Diego, where he ran into Joe Simons, a charismatic con man who attempted to use Nicholas as a charming distraction during his schemes. Joe eventually came to realize that Nicholas was better off with his family, though he reunited with the youngest Bradford for a new scheme in Season 4's "The Return of Joe Simons."

Actor Jack Elam played Joe Simons, just one of the many characters he portrayed over the years. Frequently cast as tough guys in crime and Western films due to his burly frame and distinctive eye — the result of an accidental blinding in childhood — Elam was a menacing presence in numerous studio and B pictures, including such classics as "Rancho Notorious," "Kiss Me Deadly," and "Once Upon a Time in the West." Television kept him busy throughout the 1960 and 1970s with multiple appearances on "Gunsmoke" and one-offs on "The Twilight Zone" and "The Untouchables."

Elam's comic talents, which were on full display in his "Eight is Enough" episodes, came to the forefront as James Garner's sidekick in the 1969 comedy Western "Support Your Local Sheriff." The success of that film transformed Elam from dramatic heavy to comedy star, much in the same manner as Leslie Nielsen. He played crackpots and eccentrics for the majority of the next five decades, most notably in the "Cannonball Run" features, "The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again," and episodes of "Simon & Simon," "Webster," and "Home Improvement." Elam died of congestive heart failure on October 20, 2003. He was 82.

Billie Bird

Billie Bird, who lent a touch of eccentric charm to feature films and television episodes for more than four decades, turned up briefly in the Season 2 episode "Dark Horse," in which Mary made a bid for a city council chair with the Sacramento Board of Education. Bird's character doesn't even have a name, but her offbeat presence adds to the episode's comic elements, which was her calling card and appeal to many filmmakers and producers.

Bird began her career in vaudeville before segueing into musical comedy and burlesque in the late 1940s and 1950s. A popular fixture on the nightclub and Las Vegas circuits, she began appearing in features and on television in the '50s, often in uncredited roles. By the 1960s and '70s, Bird was appearing in character roles on series like "The Waltons" while also turning in brief but memorable appearances in features like "Max Dugan Returns." A turn as one of Molly Ringwald's many grandparents in "Sixteen Candles" led to more collaborations with John Hughes, including "Home Alone" and "Dennis the Menace."

During this period, Bird also worked extensively on TV, most notably as a series regular on "Benson" (as Rose Cassidy, the replacement chef) and "Dear John" (as the startlingly frank Margie Philbert). She remained in demand throughout the 1990s, popping up in the likes of "Ernest Saves Christmas" and "Police Academy 6: City Under Siege." She died on November 27, 2002 at the age of 94.

Adam Rich (Nicholas Bradford)

The youngest member of the Bradford family, Nicholas, was played by none other than Adam Rich. Just nine years old when he joined the series, Rich's Nicholas became a fan-favorite character on "Eight is Enough." Rich joined the Bradfords for all of their 112 episodes and later returned as the young Nicholas for the subsequent television films which released in the late '80s. Apart from giving audiences their weekly dose of laughter, Rich is best known for popularizing the "pageboy" cut, which Nicholas sported throughout the ABC series. 

One of the most memorable Nicholas-centred episodes is the two-part "You Won't Have Nicholas to Kick Around Anymore," which sees the youngest member of the Bradford family accidentally starting a house fire. Following the release of the special "Eight is Enough" two-parter, Rich would go on to appear in several fire safety-related PSAs (via YouTube). After he wrapped up his initial run as Nicholas, Bradford would go on to appear in "Fantasy Island," CHiPs," and "Code Red." His biggest post-"Eight is Enough" role was voicing Presto the Magician in CBS' animated "Dungeons & Dragons" series. His final credit would be starring as himself in David Spade's 2003 comedy "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star." 

The "Eight is Enough" star died on January 7 2023 at the age of 54, per TMZ. Forbes remembered Rich as "America's little brother."