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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, including a recurring role in NCIS as Jackson Gibbs, the father of Leroy Jethro Gibbs and in Bones as Hank Booth, the grandfather of Special Agent Seeley Booth.

Early life[]

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 to 1948, 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.

Film work[]

His film work included roles in Cool Hand LukeFive Easy PiecesLawmanThe Grissom GangChato's Land and The Stone Killer. His later films included The Bodyguard, and the part of Frank the helicopter pilot in the 1993 film Cliffhanger.

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.

Personal life[]

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.

Political involvement[]

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 incumbentSonny 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.

Electoral history[]

Year Office Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct
1990 U.S House of Representatives

District 37

Jeffrey Jacobs 29%

Ralph Waite 71%

103,961 44.8% Bud Mathewson 27%

Al McCandless 73%

115,469 49.8%
1998 U.S House of Representatives

District 44 (special election)

Ralph Waite 24,228 28.8% Mary Bono 53,755 64%
1998 U.S House of Representatives

District 39 (general election)

Ralph Waite 57,697 35.7% Mary Bono 97,013 60.1%


On February 13, 2014, Waite died peacefully in Palm Desert, California, of age-related illnesses at age 85.