Jerry Van Dyke, 86, ‘Coach’ star and brother of Dick

Jerry Van Dyke (left) and his brother, Dick, laughed during a party in Los Angeles.
Chris Martinez/Associated Press/file 1992
Jerry Van Dyke (left) and his brother, Dick, laughed during a party in Los Angeles.

NEW YORK — Jerry Van Dyke, who after decades in show business finally emerged from the shadow of his older brother, Dick, with an Emmy-nominated role in the long-running ABC sitcom “Coach,” died Friday at his ranch in Arkansas. He was 86.

Jerry’s wife, Shirley Ann Jones, said his health had deteriorated since a traffic accident in 2015.

From the beginning, Mr. Van Dyke’s television career was intertwined with his brother’s. One of his earliest TV appearances was in 1962 in a two-part episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” as Stacey Petrie, the would-be comedian brother of Dick’s character, Rob Petrie.


A boisterous performer who supported himself with a banjo-and-comedy stage act when television or film roles were scant, Mr. Van Dyke was a ham to his brother’s more dignified persona. But while Dick had runaway success early on, with the Broadway show and film “Bye Bye Birdie,” the Disney musical “Mary Poppins,” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” his brother’s career was long defined by a string of short-lived projects, like “The Judy Garland Show” and the game show “Picture This.”

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Mr. Van Dyke was frank but good-humored about his failures. “If I had it all to do over again, I definitely would have turned things down,” he told The Associated Press in 1994. “Almost everything I did!”

The worst of those projects was “My Mother the Car,” which ran for one notorious season on NBC beginning in September 1965.

He played a man who buys a car that contains the spirit of his deceased mother, voiced by Ann Sothern. The plot revolved around Mr. Van Dyke’s attempts to conceal the car’s consciousness from his family and to keep an unscrupulous automobile collector, played by Avery Schreiber, from acquiring it.

The premise seems far-fetched, if not bizarre, but fantastical sitcoms like “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched” became popular around the same time. “My Mother the Car” never caught on and was savaged by critics.


“When people talk about bad television, ‘My Mother the Car’ is the show that pops to mind,” Mr. Van Dyke told the AP in 1990.

He went on to have prominent roles in other series that did not last long, like “Accidental Family,” “Headmaster,” and “13 Queens Boulevard,” and largely supported himself with his stage show. His brother, meanwhile, enjoyed more success, including a lead role in the 1968 Disney film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” a musical about a flying car.

But in 1989 Jerry Van Dyke landed the role of Luther Van Dam, the assistant coach to Craig T. Nelson’s head football coach, Hayden Fox, on “Coach.” They worked together to lead the fictional Minnesota State University Screaming Eagles, often with guest appearances by professional football figures like Troy Aikman, Dick Butkus, and Jerry Jones, as well as actors like Lucy Liu, Drew Carey, and Mary Hart.

Van Dam, a bumbling, subservient second banana who had occasional moments of pathos, was a reliable source of laughs on the show, which ran until 1997.

Mr. Van Dyke was invited on talk shows, like “Late Show With David Letterman,” and was nominated for four Emmys for supporting actor for playing Van Dam, but he never won any.


He told USA Today in 1990 that he was thrilled to get some recognition after his meandering career.

“Everybody talks about me making a comeback,” he said. “I say: ‘Comeback from what? This is as good as it’s ever been.’ ”

Jerry Van Dyke was born on July 27, 1931, in Danville, Ill., to Loren, a traveling salesman, and the former Hazel McCord, a homemaker. He was a little more than five years younger than Dick, and like his brother started a comedy act as a teenager, honing his skills at nightclubs and strip clubs.

“I couldn’t do anything else,” he joked to USA Today in 1990. “I decided to be a comedian at 8 years old and didn’t tend to my studies in school. Had I known how to do anything else, I would have quit. Many times.”

He performed at bases around the world during a stint in the Air Force in the mid-1950s. He appeared as a guest on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” had walk-on roles on “Perry Mason” and “The Andy Griffith Show,” and appeared in the John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara Western “McLintock!” (1963), one of a handful of movies he acted in.

By the end of the 1960s, Mr. Van Dyke’s television career had tapered off. He supported himself with his stage act at Playboy Clubs in Las Vegas and on cruise ships. He also appeared on shows like “Love, American Style,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and, not surprisingly, “The New Dick Van Dyke Show.”

Mr. Van Dyke married Carol Johnson in the mid-1950s; they divorced in the mid-1970s. Besides his wife, Jones, he leaves a daughter, Jerri Lynne, and a son, Ronald, both from his first marriage; and two grandchildren. Another daughter, Kelly Jean Van Dyke-Nance, died in 1991.

After “Coach,” he appeared in sitcoms like “My Name Is Earl” and “Raising Hope.” The Van Dyke brothers kept playing siblings together into old age, including on the ABC sitcom “The Middle” in 2015.

In 1993, just over three decades after his first guest appearance on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” Jerry Van Dyke returned his brother’s favor when Dick had a nonspeaking, walk-on part in a Christmas episode of “Coach.”

“I’m getting sick of Dick riding on my coattails,” Mr. Van Dyke joked to The Toronto Star in 1994. “I just can’t prop up his career forever.”

At the time, Dick had a show of his own, “Diagnosis Murder,” on CBS. He played the lead, a doctor who solved crimes. Jerry appeared on the show in 1999.