Happy Days: Tom Bosley Dies at 83; Goodbye Howard Cunningham

Tom BosleyTom Bosley, the veteran character actor best known for playing Howard Cunningham on Happy Days, has died. He was 83 years old. He reportedly passed away in his home in Palm Springs, California. He had been battling lung cancer for some time but succumbed to heart failure.

Born in a suburb of Chicago in 1927 to a Jewish Orthodox family, Bosley’s father was in real estate and his mother was, at one time, a concert pianist. The family was hard hit by the depression and they lost everything, including their home. They struggled for years, until the second World War when his father was able to re-enlist in the Army even though he was over 50 years old. Tom served in the Navy during the war.

After the war, Tom Bosley attended DePaul University in the windy city where his brother had also been schooled. He’d acted a bit in high school but wasn’t really interested in pursuing it as a career initially. He wanted to become a sports announcer and went to radio school but eventually found his way into performing. He acted in a number of area productions including Our Town and Golden Boy. He later went on to perform at the Woodstock Opera House in the small suburb of Woodstock, alongside Paul Newman at one point. He was also in one of the first televised broadcasts, in a production of Macbeth.

In 1950, after flipping a coin to decide between Los Angeles and New York, he went to the Big Apple to pursue more professional work. While there, Bosley worked in TV productions of Born Yesterday, The Good Fairy, Alice in Wonderland, and Arsenic and Old Lace as part of NBC’s Hallmark Hall of Fame. He worked in Off-Broadway plays and got his big break on Broadway by starring in Fiorello! and winning a Tony Award.

From there, he guest-starred on numerous classic TV shows like Marcus Welby MD, Night Gallery (co-starring Joan Crawford and directed by Steven Speilberg), The Virginian, Mission: Impossible, The Streets of San Francisco, Bonanza, Get Smart, and Bewitched.

In 1974, an episode of Love American Style served as a pilot for a little sitcom called Happy Days. Harold Gould, who’d played the father part in the pilot was unavailable so Bosley was cast as father Howard Cunningham, a role that he played for 10 years. He and Henry Winkler are the only two actors to appear in every episode.

After that, Bosley guest-starred on a number of programs and also had a recurring role on CBS’ Murder, She Wrote. He played small town sheriff Amos Tupper, opposite Angela Lansbury. He left that role to star in his own mystery series called Father Dowling Mysteries with Tracy Nelson. It was cancelled on NBC after one season but ABC picked it up and ran it for two more.

Bosley remained active in television and also worked frequently on-stage. In 1994, he toured in a revival of Show Boat and originated the role of Maurice, Belle’s father, in the Broadway production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. In 1999, he traveled to Australia to play a role in the Happy Days musical. In 2002, he played Herr Schultz in the Broadway revival of Cabaret.

He also did lots of voice over work over the years and numerous commercials (most notably for Glad trash bags), sometimes appearing opposite his TV wife from Happy Days, Marion Ross.

Bosley is survived by his wife Patricia, his brother Richard Bosley, daughter Amy Baer (president/CEO of CBS Films), step-daughters Kimberly di Bonaventura and Jamie Van Meter, and seven grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the American Cancer Society.

Beloved by millions of TV viewers, Bosley will be missed.

What do you think? What are some of your memories of watching Tom Bosley perform? Was Mr. C your favorite role or was it something else that he did?

Canceled and renewed TV show

1 Comment · Read it below or add one

  1. says

    As much as I admired Tom in Happy Days, I’ve got to say he brought a bright and unique life to Cabot Cove’s hit cast as Sheriff Tupper. Not only did he play off Angela Lansbury’s Jessica with charm and grace (as she’d outsmart him – but always manage to give him the credit), his banter with the distinguished William Windom always brings a smile and a guffaw – no matter how often I catch the re-runs!

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