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Alan Thicke was the kind of TV talent who transcended the vehicle that carried him to fame. Thicke, who died Tuesday at age 69, was the star of Growing Pains in the mid-1980s. He starred as dad-psychiatrist Jason Seaver. Jason worked out of his house and took care of the kids while his wife (Joanna Kerns) went off to her job. The show, which ran from 1985-92, gradually became primarily a showcase for teen idol Kirk Cameron, with Leonardo DiCaprio brought in during the seventh and last season as a homeless youth the family took in.
Growing Pains was a goofy, kid-oriented sitcom, but Thicke infused his role with a surplus of charm and energy that delivered more to the viewer than this flimsy production promised. It turned Thicke into an American household name, one that he capitalized on subsequently in scores of guest-starring TV roles and a string of mostly forgettable movies. He continued to be a star on the strength of sheer likability.
Thicke was born in Canada and had a successful career there as a comedy writer as well as a performer. He hosted his own talk show there, The Alan Thicke Show. Norman Lear hired him as a writer for Fernwood 2-Night, the very funny 1970s Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman spinoff starring Martin Mull.
After Growing Pains, he hosted his own talk show (American, this time), called Thicke of the Night — and the title was just about the only clever thing about this pedestrian, one-season, 1983-84 flop. Nevertheless, Thicke was gamely enthusiastic as always. Here he is chatting with Fee Waybill (What? You don’t remember the rock band the Tubes?) and comedian Richard Belzer.
Thicke became even more charming — more intriguing — after his Growing Pains star-period. He grew into a kind of raffish, devil-may-care attitude; the twinkle in his eye was more sparkly. He made winking appearances as himself in sitcoms such as How I Met Your Mother. He returned to his family sitcom roots in the second season of the Netflix series Fuller House — and he did an excellent job in the pilot of This Is Us, playing a wise, world-weary old-pro version of himself.
I guess what it comes down to is that Thicke was a true TV star in the sense of being someone viewers wanted to see — they were glad when he popped up onscreen. He was welcome in anyone’s home.