Dick Van Dyke is one of the greatest American actors and comedians of all time. Known for his wonderful charm, comedic timing, as well as comedic energy, he took Broadway by storm, evolving into a legendary actor with his own, now classic television show.
These days, Dick Van Dyke is 95 years old, soon to be 96. But that doesn’t mean he is slowing down – not at all. Just weeks ago, the legendary actor offered a new health update. It’s safe to say that he is doing great.
Dick Van Dyke has been in show business for more than half a century. And still to this day, he has no plans on slowing down.
Dick Van Dyke – early life
Born on December 13, 1925 in West Plains, Missouri, Van Dyke grew up in Danville, Illinois with his parents and younger brother Jerry. His brother also became an actor – however the family name will always be connected with Dick, rather than Jerry.
“Danville was a town of 30,000 people, and it felt as if most of them were relatives,” Van Dyke wrote in his autobiography, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business.
During his childhood years, the stage was always a very interesting and fun place for Dick Van Dyke. His father often travelled around as a salesman and wasn’t at home, and during this time Dick found his passion.
First, he wanted to become a minister. However, when he joined his high school’s drama club, things changed forever. Van Dyke started singing and dancing, and through appearing in the school’s musicals, he perfected his techniques. He became a great showman, and at this time, he also landed his first professional job at a local radio station.
“I was in all the shows in school. I was a radio announcer at 17. And I really never thought about it. I loved entertaining, but as a profession it was just too far away to think about. It happened incrementally,” Dick Van Dyke recalled.
Work as a radio announcer
World War II would soon erupt, and Dick Van Dyke participated in that, too. Not as a solider, but as a radio announcer. He served in the U.S Army Air Corps in Special Services, entertaining the troops.
“Everybody was getting drafted. I saw the ad in the paper, and I went down to audition and we had a 250-watt CBS affiliate,” Van Dyke said. “And I got the job! I did the news and had a disk jockey show and everything, I loved radio. I dreamed of becoming a television announcer. But things went a lot farther than that!”
Discharged from service in 1945, Dick wanted to try something else. He had a short stint in advertising, however found it wasn’t a good match at all. Instead, he started working with the lip-synching act “Merry Mutes.”
During the same time, he decided to move to California, though things weren’t great in the beginning. Van Dyke had huge problems both financially and professionally, but in hindsight, maybe that was a good thing?
Dick Van Dyke – acting career
For years, Van Dyke struggled. He and his first wife, Margie, married on a radio show called Bride and Groom in 1948, in part because the program paid for the ceremony and gave them a free honeymoon.
In the late 1940s and early ’50s, Van Dyke worked in radio and television in Atlanta and New Orleans. He then landed a seven-year contract with CBS in the early 1950s, but was let go after three years.
At the time, Van Dyke had already seen life on the road. Alongside his friend Phil Erickson, he formed a comedy act which toured the country for more than six years.
It was a tough life, but he learned a lot. And most importantly, this was where his family was formed.
“My road days weren’t over as soon as I thought,” Van Dyke recalled. “Our two sons, Christian and Barry, were born while on tour, and it’s a little nightmarish to recall the tough times when they had to sleep on mattresses in the back of the car when we jumped from job to job. Our two daughters, Stacey and Cathy, both born later, didn’t have to suffer these inconveniences, thank goodness.”
“I got off the road and took TV emcee work in Atlanta, then New Orleans, on local shows that led to a CBS network show that finally got me recognition in New York.”
The Dick Van Dyke Show
New York was the place to be for Dick Van Dyke and his family. Starring in his first Broadway show Girls Against the Boys, he was recognized and praised as his acting and singing skills had improved plenty. However, it was his second show, Bye, Bye Birdie, which took him to a different level.
Comedian and producer Carl Reiner had written a brand new show in the late 1950s. He was supposed to be the star – but as soon as he saw Dick Van Dyke, he decided to change things, even going so far as to put himself out of work.
“I fired myself and made him the star of the series,” Reiner said. “It only took me five minutes to see that Dick was a real pro and, for one so young, the versatility of his talent was unbelievable.”
The Dick Van Dyke Show became an instant success, with Van Dyke growing into a star. The sitcom comedy was spot-on, with the show airing for a total of 158 half-hour episodes spanning over five seasons.
After a couple of years of success with the show, Van Dyke wanted more. He saw potential in the role of chimney sweeper Bert in a new film called Mary Poppins. Ultimately, it was Walt Disney that came to him, asking if he could star in it.
Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins
“I never had to screen test,” Van Dyke told Parade. “He brought me in and the Sherman brothers played that wonderful score and he showed me all the drawings of what was going to happen. Oh, my gosh. I just knew it was going to be great.”
As for Walt Disney, everybody called him Uncle Walt. He was very much like an old shoe, he recalled.
“Easy to get along with, but a stickler for perfection. If you didn’t do your best, you were in trouble with him. But we became friends making the movie and he was on the set all the time. All the time! We filmed the movie entirely on the Disney lot.”
In the end, Van Dyke actually persuaded Walt Disney himself to allow him to star as a second character, the film’s banker “Mr. Dawes. Sr.,” as well.
“I said, ‘I’ll do it for nothing.’ Actually, I had to give him $4,000 dollars,” Dick Van Dyke explained. “I had to pay him to do the part.”
“And I’d do it again,” he added.
Van Dyke’s performance in Mary Poppins was legendary. Still to this day, new generations are exploring the world of Mary Poppin’s the legendary actor helped create.
And of course, when the sequel Mary Poppins Returns (2018) was released, Van Dyke returned as “Mr. Dawes, Jr.” Despite being over 90 years of age during filming, he appeared with a dance choreography.
He says he was given “three versions and I took the hardest one. I had to prove I could do it.”
New health update
Dick Van Dyke’s career sky-rocketed after the original Mary Poppins. Today, he can look back on more than 50 years in the film industry, having done work in all fields from acting to voiceovers for video games and animated films.
Still to this day, Van Dyke is still going strong. But what could possibly keep him motivated?
“I just love the work. I love to do it,” he explained.
Turning 95 is quite an accomplishment if you ask me. As a young kid, Van Dyke loved dancing and still does. That is, according to him, one of the things that keeps him young.
“Oh, absolutely! Oh, god yes! You do a little dancing every day. If I go into a store and there’s music playing, then I’m dancing. In the market every morning. I can’t help it,” he said.
“Any kind of movement like that will help keep joints and bones moving. And my wife keeps me young! She has a lot of energy. She’s a singer and a dancer, so we do musicals around here all day.”
In a 2015 NPR interview, Van Dyke spoke on the fact that he’s now getting very old. The hardest part for him has been “giving up the things that you enjoy doing.”
“The point is to enjoy”
“I can’t handle the tennis court anymore. I can still run and dance and sing. You know, I made a habit of asking other people in their old age: of all the things you enjoyed doing when you were younger that you can’t anymore, what do you miss?” Dick Van Dyke said.
“Some people mention golf or tennis. One woman said, ‘I miss having lunch with the girls.’ But the people who said I wish I had made smarter business decisions, I think they’re missing the point.”
“The point is to enjoy,” he added. “You have to pick what you enjoy doing, what fulfills you, what interests you. And I realize that’s not possible for a lot of people. As Thoreau said, a lot of people are living lives of quiet desperation. But almost anyone can find that one immersing hobby or pastime that they love to do.”
Even though dancing can keep your mind young, getting old is something we can’t control. Speaking with CBS This Morning earlier this year, the 95-year-old legendary actor gave a new update on his health.
Speaking on the show, Van Dyke explained that he has his own workout routine at his Malibu home’s backyard. It includes doing sit-ups and, of course, dancing.
Still working out at home
“I’m 95, and a lot of my friends won’t do these,” he says, demonstrating his fitness regimen on the ground. “… So all you old guys out there, listen to me, I’m telling you: You can keep going for a long— I’m still dancing! And singing!”
Van Dyke’s life’s work will always be remembered as legendary. In five years time, we will hopefully be able to celebrate his 100th birthday – and boy, will that be a thing to witness!
So what will Dick Van Dyke do for his 100th birthday?
“I remember George Burns booked himself at the Palladium,” Van Dyke told Parade. “He didn’t quite make it there, but at least he had an optimistic outlook. I’ve got nothing booked yet!”
“There’s an old saying: ‘Sing like nobody can hear you, dance like nobody can see you and love like you’ve never been hurt.’ That’s a good way to live. that’s my motto.”
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