Only a few people in Hollywood today could truly be called a living legend, but Dick Van Dyke is certainly one of them. The iconic song-and-dance funnyman has made a huge impact in film, TV and the Broadway stage — and decades later he’s still going strong.
And today, the icon celebrates his 96th birthday! In honor of this milestone, join us in looking back at his incredible career and see what he’s up to now.
Dick Van Dyke was born on December 13, 1925 in West Plains, Missouri. He grew up in the small town of Danville, Illinois with his parents and brother, Jerry, amidst the Great Depression.
“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.
At first, Dick wanted to be a minister, but soon found a calling for acting after joining a local drama club.
He started honing the singing and dancing skills that would define his career, and it didn’t take long for him to break into show business, landing a job as a radio announcer.
He continued to be a radio announcer for the troops during World War II.
Early Success and ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’
After the war, he traveled around the country continuing his musical career, and had his big break starring in the hit Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie, winning a Tony Award and originating the classic tune “Put on a Happy Face.”
This led to the series that made him a household name: The Dick Van Dyke Show, a sitcom starring Van Dyke opposite Mary Tyler Moore. The series was created by comedy legend Carl Reiner, who knew he had found a star.
“I saw Dick Van Dyke, and that was it. 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.”
It did indeed prove to be a winning formula for success: The Dick Van Dyke Show ran for five seasons and 158 episodes, won 15 Emmy Awards and is still today considered an all-time classic TV series.
Having proved himself on Broadway and on TV, Van Dyke also ventured into film work in the 1960s. Notable films include the film version of Bye Bye Birdie and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
But Van Dyke is best known for starring in one of the biggest family films of the era: Disney’s musical Mary Poppins. Van Dyke played Bert the chimney sweep opposite Julie Andrews’ titular nanny.
Walt Disney offered him the role, and Van Dyke was immediately excited about the project: “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.”
He was right: the film became Walt Disney’s biggest hit at the time, and was the only film for which Disney received a Best Picture nomination. Today, it is still regarded as a classic — and while some might not appreciate Van Dyke’s cockney accent, he certainly gives a memorable performance.
Van Dyke’s biggest success in his later career was starring in the long-running medical mystery series Diagnosis: Murder, opposite his real-life son Barry, which ran for 8 seasons on CBS.
Never one to slow down, he’s continued to appear in films well into his 80s and 90s. He acted in the Night at the Museum films, and returned to one of his most beloved films in the sequel Mary Poppins Returns, showing that he still had his old dances moves:
Van Dyke has received all sorts of awards and honors for his career, but he received one of the highest honors in the arts earlier this year as one of this year’s Kennedy Center Honorees.
The ceremony included musical tributes from some of today’s biggest Broadway stars, but the nicest tribute came from his Mary Poppins co-star Julie Andrews, who called him “endlessly kind, wildly imaginative, insanely talented and hilariously funny.”
“I think Dick is as magical as [Mary Poppins] is,” Andrews said. “Like his character, Bert, in that movie, Dick seems to have found the secret to happiness.”
“And, like Bert, Dick is many things. He’s an artist, a one-man band, a profound philosopher, a high-stepping showman and spreader of charm. And there’s a secret — good luck does rub off when he shakes hands with you.”
Even now that he’s turning 96, Van Dyke shows no signs of slowing down. Earlier this year he showed CBS he was still keeping in shape.
“I’m 95, and a lot of my friends won’t do these,” he said. “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!”
Not only is he keeping fit, he’s still performing on stage. While his live career was put on hold during the pandemic, Van Dyke says he’s “desperate to get back on stage” and is planning a comeback show.
“Oh, God, I knew I liked it, but I didn’t know how much I would miss it,” Van Dyke said in an interview with the Washington Post. “I really miss getting up in front of an audience.”
Most 96-year-olds would be long out of the game, but Van Dyke says he never plans to retire from show biz — he just likes it too much.
“If you’re doing something you like doing, then why retire from it?” he told Parade. “It doesn’t make sense.”
On the contrary, Van Dyke plans to still be performing on his 100th birthday: “I remember George Burns booked himself at the Palladium. He didn’t quite make it there, but at least he had an optimistic outlook,” Van Dyke said.
“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.”
Happy birthday to the legendary Dick Van Dyke! So glad to see he’s still going strong after all these decades.
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