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Obituary: Tom Bosley

Tom Bosley

Obituary by Jack Foley

ACTOR Tom Bosley, who became a household name throughout the world for playing all-American father Howard Cunningham in the 1970s TV series Happy Days, has died at the age of 83.

The star passed away at his home just outside Palm Springs following a short battle with lung cancer, according to his family in a statement.

Born on October 1, 1927, in Chicago, Bosley quickly developed an affinity for the arts but had to wait to properly pursue a career as an actor in order to serve in the United States Navy during World War II.

Upon his return, Bosley enrolled at Chicago’s DePaul University and, in 1947, made his stage debut in Our Town with the Canterbury Players at the Fine Arts Theatre while still pursuing his studies.

Bosley went on to perform at the Woodstock Opera House in Woodstock, Illinois, in 1949 and 1950 alongside Paul Newman.

His breakthrough stage role followed nine years later, when he won a Tony Award for his portrayal of New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia in the long-running Broadway musical Fiorello!.

The attention this brought enabled him to pursue a career in the movies and on TV, and his first motion picture role was in 1963’s Love With The Proper Stranger alongside Natalie Wood.

Further roles followed in films such as The World of Henry Orient, Divorce American Style, Yours, Mine and Ours and Gus.

In the ’60s, though, he turned more towards TV and caught attention in shows such as Diagnosis: Unknown with Patrick O’Neal and The Virginian.

In 1974, however, he landed the role that would secure him the most popularity, as Howard Cunningham, Richie Cunningham’s father, in Happy Days alongside the likes of Henry Winkler and Ron Howard.

The show ran for 10 years, until May 8, 1984, and was created by Garry Marshall.

Further TV success came as Sheriff Amos Tupper on Murder, She Wrote and as the eponymous Father Frank Dowling on the TV mystery series, Father Dowling Mysteries. Ironically, despite playing a priest on many occasions, Bosley was a Jew.

Ironically, Bosley has since revealed that he initially turned down the Happy Days role, but had a change of heart after re-reading the pilot script.

“I changed my mind because of a scene between Howard Cunningham and Richie. The father/son situation was written so movingly, I fell in love with the project,” he once said.

Howard Cunningham was subsequently listed at number nine in a list of the 50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time by TV Guide in 2004.

Throughout his career, Bosley never lost his passion for theatre and made another successful return to Broadway in 1994 when he originated the role of Belle’s father in Disney’s production of Beauty and the Beast.

His final movie appearance came in 2010, when he appeared alongside Jennifer Lopez in The Back-up Plan.

In his persona life, Bosley married dancer Jean Eliot in 1962 and the couple had one child, Amy. Two years after his wife’s death in 1978, Bosley married actress-producer Patricia Carr, who had three daughters from a previous marriage.


Among the first to pay tribute to Bosley was his co-star, Henry Winkler, who played The Fonz in Happy Days.

He said: “He was our television father on the sound stage, but a father figure in real life. He was a loving husband, a doting father and a fantastic grandfather. He will be so missed but never forgotten by the Winkler Family or the world.”

Film director and former co-star Ron Howard also said: “Tom’s insight, talent, strength of character and comic timing made him a vital central figure in the Happy Days experience. A great father and husband, and a wonderful artist, Tom led by example, and made us all laugh while he was doing it.

“My last conversations with Tom reflected the love of life and peace of mind that he always maintained throughout his full and rewarding life. I miss him already.”

And Scott Baio, who plaed Chachi Arcola in the popular sitcom, said Bosley took “tremendous pride” in playing the part of Richie Cunnigham’s father.

“He loved it and I think it was one of the true loves of his life was doing that character. He was a wonderful, suffering, sort of jovial, happy guy and he took to it like a fish takes to water.”