He was born in 1931, in Danville, Ill. His father, nicknamed "Cookie," was a salesman for a biscuit company, and his mother, a stenographer, was a descendant of a passenger on the Mayflower. While in high school, he began a career as a comedian, performing in local nightclubs and strip joints. He briefly attended Eastern Illinois University. In 1952 he joined the U.S. Air Force and became a member of the Tops in Blue entertainment unit, usually accompanying himself with a banjo. As a result of winning a military talent contest, he appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
After his military service, he worked for a while at WTHI-TV in Terre Haute, Ind., before making guest appearances on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," playing the star character's banjo-playing brother. He then became a regular on the first season of "The Judy Garland Show" and was host of a celebrity TV game show, "Picture This."
In 1964, when CBS offered him the role of Gilligan in "Gilligan's Island," he turned it down to take the lead role in the short-lived "My Mother the Car." For the next decade, he was relegated to supporting movie roles ("McLintock!," "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," "Palm Springs Weekend") and minor TV characters. He also continued his stand-up career in Playboy Clubs and other venues. A character in the "The Bob Newhart Show" was originally written for him, but the role was given to Tom Poston.
In 1989, he won the role of Luther Van Dam on "Coach," a hit TV show starring Craig T. Nelson and Shelley Fabares. He played the character for eight seasons, earning four consecutive Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
In 1984, he married Shirley Ann Jones of Glen Rose (Hot Spring County). Although they owned homes in Los Angeles and Mexico, they spent much of their time on their 500-acre ranch near Malvern, raising horses, llamas and other animals. In 1996, they renovated a city block in Benton, including the abandoned Royal Theater, a candy shop, and a soda shop. In 2000, Van Dyke donated the theater to the Central Arkansas Community Players, who then changed their name to the Royal Players.
After playing a notable role in the TV series "The Middle" (2010–2015), he was seriously injured in an car wreck. He died of a heart attack in 2018.
Who was this actor/entertainer, whose early career was overshadowed by his more famous older brother?