Jerry Van Dyke

Active - 1963 - 1997  |   Born - Jul 27, 1931 in Danville, Illinois, United States  |   Died - Jan 5, 2018   |   Genres - Comedy

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Stocky comedic actor Jerry Van Dyke -- the younger brother by several years of actor Dick Van Dyke -- achieved some of the success of his older sibling, albeit with a somewhat lower profile and his own distinct persona. Time and again, Jerry specialized in portrayals of flustered, befuddled, and slightly klutzy goofballs who projected grating angst. (His typical characterizations could be contrasted with the "laid-back everyman" qualities and smoothness required by many of Dick's roles.)

Raised in Danville, IL -- a community about 130 miles south of Chicago -- Van Dyke evinced a flair for comedic buffoonery and loved to entertain audiences as early as high school, then spent several years touring the country and performing in every comedy club he could find that agreed to book him. His career only began to take off, however, following his decision to join the Air Force Special Services in 1952 (during the Korean War) -- which, in turn, provided him with the opportunity to travel around the world and entertain the troops. His act soon caught the eye of Ed Sullivan, who booked Jerry for two popular engagements on his iconic variety series, and in the mid-'60s he began appearing alongside his brother on The Dick Van Dyke Show (conveniently playing Rob Petrie's brother, Stacey Petrie).

In the years that followed, Jerry Van Dyke began associations with two key television producers -- relationships that would serve him well in the years to come. The first -- a collaboration with Grant Tinker (off-camera husband of Mary Tyler Moore from The Dick Van Dyke Show) led to Van Dyke's starring role in the 1965 fantasy-tinged sitcom My Mother the Car, which cast him as Dave Crabtree, a fellow revisited by his deceased mother -- in the form of an automobile. That program failed within a year, but the actor and producer would team up again nearly a decade later when Tinker and Co. cast Van Dyke in a brief multi-episode stretch of The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Wes Callison, an ex-boyfriend of Mary Richards who is plagued by complications when he happens to take a job in the same newsroom as Mary. During the same decade, Van Dyke also turned up as a guest star on series including That Girl, Love, American Style, and Fantasy Island.

Van Dyke then tried out for the role of dim-witted Vermont handyman George Utley on the seminal '80s sitcom Newhart. Producer/creator Barry Kemp felt that the actor would be the wrong choice for the part (and eventually handed it to Tom Poston instead), but also felt so impressed by Van Dyke's talents that he both cast the actor in a guest-starring role on a season-one episode of that series (he played a flustered travel agent named Roy Herzog), and promised Van Dyke a more substantial recurring assignment on a sitcom. Kemp realized that promise five years later, by enlisting Van Dyke to play spaced-out assistant football coach Luther Van Dam on the top-tiered sitcom Coach (1989-1997). For that portrayal, the actor received numerous Emmy nominations.

In subsequent years, Van Dyke continued his television work (he enjoyed a lengthy run on the sitcom Yes, Dear as Big Jimmy Hughes), did standup comedy bookings around the country, and emceed advertisements for various brands, products, and companies, including Big Lots.

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Factsheet

  • After high school, played banjo and did stand-up comedy at strip clubs and nightclubs in the Danville area.
  • Joined the Air Force, where he was a member of the entertainment group Tops in Blue. Appeared with Tops in Blue on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1954.
  • Guest starred as the brother of his real-life brother Dick Van Dyke on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Diagnosis Murder.
  • Turned down opportunities to play Gilligan on Gilligan's Island and to replace Don Knotts on the Andy Griffith Show.
  • Toured with his brother Dick Van Dyke in the play The Sunshine Boys in 2011.