Sitcom star who overcame “younger-brother syndrome”

Amiably goofy TV star Jerry Van Dyke, 86, died on Jan. 5 at his Arkansas ranch after several years of failing health. Jerry’s career was almost derailed by being the younger brother of the more famous Dick Van Dyke: CBS gave him a disastrous “obnoxious sidekick” gig on The Judy Garland Show (“CBS insisted that they cast me even though I was completely wrong for it, and the material they gave me was awful”), his guest appearances on his brother’s sitcom were cringe-making, and he starred on the notoriously awful (but fondly remembered) My Mother the Car. But his bumbling, self-conscious charm came through on such shows as Accidental Family, Headmaster and, most notably, Coach (1989-97); most recently, he appeared on The Middle. He and his brother appeared together onstage, as well as on Coach, Diagnosis Murder and The Middle. “I can’t figure out how they decide who is in demand,” Jerry once said. “I mean, who knows whether the public wants to see Jim Garner? Or Steve McQueen? Or Paul Newman? The studios keep talking about box office appeal, but I’m convinced anyone can become a star if the studio decides to push him long enough.”—Eve Golden

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