Dick Van Dyke turned 97 on December 13th… and it seems he needed no help blowing out those birthday candles. He’s been spotted out and about lately and looks to be as active as ever. The Daily Mail tracked him down recently and asked about his secret to a long and healthy life. He laughed and answered: “Well, I don’t know, all my friends are dead so I’m not going to complain!”
Happy 97th Birthday to Dick Van Dyke! pic.twitter.com/SiRyhD34wM
— Classic Hollywood(GP) (@CHC_1927) December 13, 2022
His zest for life and eternal youthfulness is apparent in that he got married in 2012 to a much younger woman, makeup artist Arlene Silver, who is over 40 years younger than him. According to Parade magazine, he said: “one of the smartest movies I’ve ever made. She’s very mature for her age, and I’m very immature for my age, so it’s about right!”
His career has spanned the best part of a century. Van Dyke was born in West Plains, Missouri in 1925. His mother Hazel Victoria was a stenographer and father Loren Wayne a salesman. The young Dick almost became a man of the cloth, but drama class steered him onto the chosen path of entertainment.
As mentioned on his official website, “he wrote, ‘I suppose that I never completely gave up my childhood idea of being a minister. Only the medium and the message changed. I have still endeavored to touch people’s souls, to raise their spirits and put smiles on their faces’.”
He was already pretty experienced by the time fame found him. Having set his sights on those bright lights “He went on to do it all” says the New York Times. “He was one-half of a touring mime team, a television announcer, a radio disc jockey.” Gower Champion, director and choreographer, noticed his “rubbery-legged agility” and put him on Broadway in Bye Bye Birdie.
Van Dyke didn’t think he could dance, but soon learned he could. He made his TV debut on the smash hit The Phil Silvers Show and starred in his own self-titled program that ran between 1961 – 66. A revival called The New Dick Van Dyke Show was filmed between ‘71 and ‘74.
He divided his time between the big and small screens. Notable movie roles include Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Carl Reiner’s The Comic the following year. He wasn’t afraid to show his dark side as a murderous photographer in the Columbo episode “Negative Reaction (1974).” Van Dyke never lost the showbiz buzz, singing and dancing alongside the acting.
Mark Sloan is arguably how more modern audiences know him best. The rollerskating doctor turned sleuth was the central character of Diagnosis Murder (1993 – 2001). This popular show co-starred his son Barry Van Dyke, one of four children he had with Margie Willett. His late brother Jerry was also an actor and comedian, starring in the sitcom Coach. Dick then reached yet another generation as part of the Night At The Museum franchise.
Dick Van Dyke married twice, first in 1948 to Willett before getting divorced in 1984. After a 30-year relationship with Michelle Triola – also known as Michelle Triola Marvin – which ended with her passing in 2009, he went on to wed makeup artist Arlene Silver in 2012.
As for his dazzling talent, Van Dyke credits that to a less-than-methodical approach. “I don’t do any background study or preparation,” he told the Times. “I once went to a dramatic coach years and years ago. I was playing a rather heavy part about an alcoholic. And he said, ‘Let’s look at the subtext,’ and I said, ‘I beg your pardon?’ [Laughs.] I’m strictly a superficial actor.”
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A superficial actor maybe, but one whose work has inspired and given substance to the lives of millions.