FOX News is reporting that Happy Days patriarch Tom Bosley has died in Palm Springs at the age of 83. The famed TV dad had been battling lung cancer in recent months. Bosley’s death comes only a few short days after the death of Barbara Billingsley, another beloved TV parent for her role as Beaver’s mom June Cleaver.
Bosley’s Early Life
According to the NY Times, Bosley was born in Chicago on Oct. 1, 1927. Although widely known for playing a Catholic priest, Bosley was born Jewish. After weathering the Great Depression, Bosley enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving during WWII. Following the war, Bosley attended DePaul University, where he first caught the acting bug in a campus production of Our Town. That led to stints at the Canterbury Players Fine Arts Theatre and the Woodstock Opera House, where he performed with Paul Newman. Bosley became famous playing New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia on Broadway in the 1950s, for which he won a Tony Award.
Bosley Becomes TV Icon with Happy Days
Although Bosley dabbled in film work in the 1950s and 1960s, he is best known and beloved for his TV characters. Foremost among those roles was that of Happy Days’ 1950s mild-mannered hardware store owner and dad Howard Cunningham. Although Happy Days defined Bosley, he did not let that stop him from working after the show ended following an 11-year run. He acted steadily through the 2000s. You can hear Bosley’s views on his Happy Days years here in this video, in which he discusses that time with Bill O’Reilly.
Bosley was Magic as Father Dowling
Although he was best known for playing Mr. Cunningham on Happy Days, my favorite Tom Bosley roles have nothing to do with that iconic show. I loved Bosley for his role as Father Frank Dowling in Father Dowling Mysteries, which aired from 1987 to 1991. As a feisty Catholic priest, Bosley solved weekly crimes and made being a priest look cool. His Father Dowling was smart; quick-witted; and, most of all, entertaining. I always got the impression from watching Bosley act that I was watching his true self.
I think that’s what made his characters so wonderful. They seemed like real people you’d want to be friends with. Bosley’s characters had a knack for being the calm at the center of the dramatic storm on whatever show he was on. That was never more true than on Father Dowling Mysteries.
Bosley’s Sheriff Amos Tupper Gave Murder She Wrote Down-Home Charm
I am convinced that I was the only 11-year-old in American who watched Murder She Wrote. Of course, Angela Lansbury’s smart writer-cum-detective Jessica Fletcher was a big part of the appeal. But so was Tom Bosley’s Sheriff Amos Tupper. The show, which ran on CBS from 1984 to 1996, was always better when Sheriff Tupper was in an episode. Whether trying to help solve a case of death by jam poisoning or complicating an investigation with his bumbling ways, Bosley gave Murder She Wrote a down-home charm. Although Bosley only appeared in 19 episodes of the series, when I think of Murder She Wrote, I think of Tom Bosley.
Although TV Guide ranked Bosley’s Happy Days character Mr. Cunningham as the number-nine greatest TV dad of all time, I would argue that Bosley himself was one of the top TV actors of all time. My family’s love of his work continues on through my children, who love to hear him voice Principal Warner on Betsy’s Kindergarten Adventures or Santa Paws in Santa Buddies. My family and I would like to offer Tom Bosley a thank-you. Thanks Mr. C., Father Dowling, Sheriff Tupper and Principal Warner for many years of wholesome entertainment.
Bruce Weber. “Tom Bosley, ‘Happy Days’ Dad, Dies at 83.” NY Times
“TV ‘Happy Days’ Dad Tom Bosley Dies.” FOX News
IMDB: Tom Bosley