It’s impossible not to love Dick Van Dyke. For over half a century, he’s been a consummate entertainer, bringing his delightful humor to screens big and small. At 97 (yes, you read that right!) he’s the very definition of a living legend — and he’s still handsome and talented as ever after all these years. Whether you grew singing along with Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or dreamed of being part of the Petrie family on The Dick Van Dyke Show, there’s a good chance Van Dyke’s charismatic presence was part of your childhood — and beyond! Here’s a look back at his long career, and a guide to the best Dick Van Dyke movies and TV shows.
Dick Van Dyke early years
Dick Van Dyke was born in Missouri in 1925. He developed an interest in acting in high school, but with the start of World War II he dropped out to join the Air Force. Van Dyke quickly found out he wasn’t qualified to be a pilot, but his singing and dancing abilities led him to be placed in the Special Services division, where he provided entertainment for fellow service members and worked as a DJ.
Following his time in the military, Van Dyke continued DJing and performing comedy, and soon began making TV appearances. He also began acting on Broadway, starring in Bye Bye Birdie in 1960. The fact that Van Dyke could not only act but also sing, dance and reliably make audiences laugh made him not just a great stage star, but also a dynamic TV presence — and by the early ’60s, he’d become a household name.
Dick Van Dyke movies and TV shows
Read on for a look at some of Dick Van Dyke’s best-loved movies and TV shows.
The Dyke Van Dyke Show (1961 to 1966)
More than 60 years after it aired its first episode, The Dick Van Dyke Show remains one of the most popular and influential sitcoms of all time. Van Dyke starred as Rob Petrie, a comedy writer navigating work and family life. The show ran for 158 episodes and five seasons, from 1961 to 1966, and he won multiple Emmy awards for his performance.
The show, which was created by comedy icon Carl Reiner (who called Van Dyke “the most gifted performer I ever worked with” and also co-starred as Alan Brady, the star of the show-within-a-show Van Dyke writes for) brilliantly captured the fresh new humor of the ’60s.
Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore were the epitome of a young, modern couple, and the device of showing the behind-the-scenes of Van Dyke working in the entertainment industry (alongside the hilarious trio of Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie and Richard Deacon) gave it a creative, self-aware flair that’s inspired countless shows since.
Bye Bye Birdie (1963)
While he was starring in The Dick Van Dyke Show, the actor also began appearing in movies. His first movie role was in the musical Bye Bye Birdie, where he reprised his role of songwriter Albert Peterson from the Broadway play. The film also made Ann-Margret a star.
Mary Poppins (1964)
It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! In 1964, Van Dyke became a favorite of children everywhere when he starred as Bert, the charming cockney chimney sweep and jack of all trades in the Disney classic Mary Poppins. In a Los Angeles Times interview, Van Dyke admitted that when it comes to his less-than-perfect accent, “British people have never let me off the hook… They just tease me to death.”
Divorce American Style (1967)
Dick Van Dyke is one of the entertainment world’s ultimate nice guys. In 1967, he went against type when he was cast in Divorce American Style as a man going through a difficult divorce from his wife (Debbie Reynolds). In a contemporary interview, Van Dyke said, “It sure is a departure from Mary Poppins… This is the first picture I’ve ever been drunk in, and I’m drunk twice, at that. And once it’s in a prostitute’s living room.”
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Van Dyke starred as inventor Caractacus Potts, who creates a magical car for his children, in this 1968 musical. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘s quirky story was written by none other than Ian Fleming, who was best known as the creator of James Bond. In 2016, Van Dyke went viral when he performed an a cappella version of the the movie’s theme song at a Denny’s in California.
The Comic (1969)
After The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, Van Dyke starred in The Comic, a movie from the show’s creator, Carl Reiner. Van Dyke played a struggling silent-era comedian, and while the film was not a success, it provided a showcase for Van Dyke’s dramatic abilities and has come to be considered a hidden gem. As Reiner said, “This film is to me very unusual in that it’s a story of a… rotten person, an egocentric, which is exactly what [Dick Van Dyke] isn’t. And we asked him to play this and he found the evil within himself.”
The New Dick Van Dyke Show (1971 to 1974)
Van Dyke returned to TV in 1971 with The New Dick Van Dyke Show. While its title would suggest it was a reboot or continuation of the earlier show, this actually wasn’t the case. However, there were plenty of similarities. Carl Reiner created the show, and Van Dyke once again played a family man working in TV. The show wasn’t nearly as popular as The Dick Van Dyke Show, and ended after three seasons.
Van Dyke had a number of unsuccessful TV outings in this period. In 1976, he hosted a short-lived variety show, Van Dyke and Company, and in 1977 he joined the cast of The Carol Burnett Show near the end of its run.
In 1988, he starred in The Van Dyke Show alongside his son, Barry, but the show (which once again, wasn’t a reboot of the original Dick Van Dyke Show) was panned by critics and cancelled after just six episodes.
Diagnosis Murder (1993 to 2001)
In 1993, Van Dyke played a crime-solving doctor in Diagnosis Murder. His real-life son, Barry, played his character’s son, a homicide detective. The show ran for eight seasons, with 178 episodes (more than The Dick Van Dyke Show!) and a number of related TV movies. While many saw a mystery show as an unexpected move for Van Dyke at the time, he described the show as “a joy” and appreciated the opportunity to play off his son.
What is Dick Van Dyke up to now?
Dick Van Dyke hasn’t slowed down in recent years and continues making movies and TV shows. In 2018, he showed up in Mary Poppins Returns, and just this year he guest-starred in Days of Our Lives. He even recently appeared on The Masked Singer!
It’s hard to believe the charming actor is in his late 90s, and he’s come to be a beacon of aging gracefully. In an NPR interview, Van Dyke said, “It’s more in my nature to be optimistic… I’m one of those people who gets up on the right side of the bed in the morning. I get up and have a cup of coffee and go to the gym before I talk myself out of it because I will as anybody will.” His optimism is truly infectious, and we’ll forever be entertained by his twinkling blue eyes, bright smile and absolute mastery of physical comedy.
Read about more of your favorite stars of the ’60s here!