Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Heart is Heavy Today: Dick Van Patten June 23, 2015

Dick Van Patten with his wife Patty&  son Jimmy, in Palm Springs (photo: Palm Springs Life)
My heart is heavy today over the loss of my friend Dick Van Patten. He was kind, talented, funny, generous and truly an animal lover. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have known Dickie these years. I knew him on a personal and professional level. Most people remember him for Eight is Enough, however, he had an incredible career as an actor. He started as a child actor on stage, and later went on to one of the early TV programs "I Remember Mama" in 1949. During his career, Dickie appeared in 600 radio shows, 30 Broadway shows, 26 feature films, eight television series and countless guest appearances in TV series and even a reality TV series. I had the opportunity to work closely with Dick during my years at Natural Balance, during multiple National Guide Dog Month campaigns and also during the filming of the TV series Who Let The Dogs Out. I first got to know him back when I worked at Petco, and our friendship developed over the years. But I also knew Dickie on a personal level. His passions were many...first, his family...and then from tennis to poker to race horses to animals--and especially cats. He was always fascinated by cats.

with Dick Van Patten in Palm Springs, 2009
He was also a true animal advocate, and put his time and money into programs to help animals in need. Dick Van Patten literally helped thousands of animal organizations nationwide and founded National Guide Dog Month to help raise awareness and money for non-profit guide dog schools. Dick was a family fan, a loving husband and a dear friend. 

Dick had a great sense of humor...his jokes were always hugely funny and he had great comedic timing. Years ago, back when I worked for Petco, Dick was known for telling some truly hilarious, and now legendary jokes at the Petco Trade Show and Managers Meeting. Attendees of the annual event would literally wait with great anticipation for him to appear on stage to hear his big joke. Some years his jokes had an edgy double entendre, yet still respectable, leaving the audience rolling on the floor.

Dick loved my dog Sheldon!
Many people already know that Dick Van Patten was always interested in helping animal causes. He was an ardent supporter of Guide Dog programs, and in particular he had a soft spot for the Guide Dogs of the Desert in Palm Springs, CA. During a visit to the Guide Dogs of the Desert he went under blindfold and was led by a guide dog to experience what it was like to put full trust in an animal. This experience influenced him and was at the heart of his desire to help guide dog programs nationwide. His philanthropy knew no limits--from hosting celebrity tennis tournaments to supporting organizations like Actors and Others for Animals, The Petco Foundation, and literally thousands of shelters nationwide, he found a way to help as many animals in need as possible. His efforts also served as inspiration to similar programs in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia. He made a difference to animals in the world.

Dick's Star in Palm Springs
I'll always remember the time Dick received his Golden Palm honor on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars. The night before, we held a private dinner party in Dick's honor at Melvyn's Ingleside Inn restaurant, which was a truly memorable evening. The next day, Saturday January 12, 2008 was the star unveiling and dedication ceremony. 

Dickie and his family assembled for the star dedication, and other celebrities including Lily Tomlin, Tom Bosley, Ruta Lee, Debbie Gibson, Jerry Vale attended that day. Following the star dedication, we hosted a private luncheon afterward at Spencer's Restaurant. I shall never forget what a nice weekend that was, and how happy Dick was to receive this honor from the Palm Springs community.

And so, as is the case in this life, all good things must come to an end. He was one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, and a man I called friend. He encouraged me when I needed confidence, and he listened when I needed a sounding board to make personal and professional decisions. Above all, he always made me feel comfortable and relaxed.

I cannot sufficiently express the depth of my admiration, respect and love for Dickie Van Patten or what he meant to me. I cried when the word came that Dick had passed. I cried because he always made me feel like a son, and welcomed me into his life.

Thank you, Dick Van Patten for many fond memories and many great laughs. 

Your pal, Rick.


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