PALM DESERT — Ralph Waite, a Palm Desert resident known for his role as John Walton Sr. on the 1970s TV series “The Waltons” has died, Waite’s long-time friend Jerry Preece told The Desert Sun.
Waite, 85, died at his Palm Desert home Thursday at about 11 a.m.
Preece, who spent a lot of time with Waite eating at different restaurants and going to the movies, had planned to pick him up at 1 p.m.
When he arrived, he found ambulances and Waite’s wife, Linda Waite.
“She just told me she thought he’d passed,” Preece said.
Linda Waite didn’t immediately respond to phone calls Thursday afternoon.
“We had talked a lot about it...he had been ill on and off lately and had a couple of spells in the hospitals. Everything was just wearing out,” Preece said.
“This last year or two, he had really gotten closer to realizing that his body was wearing out.”
Preece said his friend died of a “tired heart.”
Though Waite gained popularity for his role on the depression-era show and then for his role as Mark Harmon’s father, Jackson “Jack” Gibbs, on the popular CBS series NCIS, he established religious and political roots in the Coachella Valley.
In his later years, Waite, an ordained Presbyterian minister who left organized religion more than 50 years ago, discovered Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship, which meets Sunday evenings at United Church of the Desert on Warner Trail.
"It was just what I was looking for," Wait told The Desert Sun in 2010.
"I spent a couple of months reacquainting myself with the Old Testament. ... It's the root of our religion," he said.
Waite also made his way onto the political scene in the 1990s.
Waite, a Democrat, entered the political fray in 1990 when he challenged incumbent Republican congressman Al McCandless, representing the 37th district in Riverside County, losing by 5 percentage points.
Waite said he got involved in politics because "I thought our representative in Congress was not up to par. I ran and lost, but had a great time."
In 1998, Waite ran in the special election for the unexpired 44th Congressional District seat left vacant when incumbent Republican Sonny Bono died in a skiing accident.
Waite was defeated in that election by Mary Bono, Sonny's widow.
"Ralph was a very formidable opponent yet I grew to admire him very much. We had some fun with political jesting and jousting but his caring nature and keen wit always made me smile. I am grateful for his contributions to our community, most notably his support of the ABC Recovery Center,” Bono, a former California Assemblywoman, said in a statement Thursday. “The world has last a great star and I join our community in remembering a very good man."
My name is Corey.
You can say I'm just a friend.