On Tuesday, June 23, entertainment icon Dick Van Patten, 86, passed away at Saint John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California due to complications from diabetes. Van Patten's résumé in the entertainment world is legendary – from starring in Eight is Enough, Love Boat, and countless other film and television projects – but he also had an impact in the poker world.
From 1993-95, Van Patten served as commentator for the World Series of Poker, and was also known to dabble in the game from time to time. For instance, in 2006 he was a part of the World Poker Tour's Father and Sons Invitational alongside the youngest of his three sons, Vince Van Patten, who happens to be co-commentator of the WPT.
"I remember at three in the morning he would say, 'Dad, can I go to bed now?' And I would say, 'Shut up and deal,'" Van Patten previously said of Vince, who learned to play poker as a teenager.
Unfortunately the pair finish in sixth place behind other father-son duos John and Steve Stolzmann (5th); Michael and Romeo Simon (4th); Jeff and Barry Shulman (3rd), Todd and Doyle Brunson (2nd); and Barry Greenstein and Joe Sebok (1st).
Five years ago, Van Patten told Palm Springs Life of poker: "No blackjack, no roulette. I feel that’s completely luck; whereas with horses and poker, you can really use your head." In 2005 and 2006, Van Patten also hosted a celebrity poker tournament at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino to benefit animal nonprofits, and since then he has lent his name to the annual Dick Van Patten Celebrity Charity Poker Tournament in the Coachella Valley.
Van Patten will no doubt be best remember for his work in the entertainment industry, but for those in the poker community, they will always remember his as the man who helped legitimize the game. As noted poker historian and WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla told PokerNews:
Mr. Van Patten was very important in poker history for one reason, and that's because when the WSOP was in this formative, backroom smoky, outlaw-type environment, the powers that be wanted to bring in someone who was respectable and mainstream that everyone could connect to. Sure enough, they get the star of one of TV's premiere shows. He was everyone's father, so him coming into the WSOP and announcing it gave it a sense of not only respectability, but also that it was morally ok.
I really think before Van Patten was involved we were still the smoky backroom game. All of a sudden you have millions of people saying, 'Gee, the star of Eight Is Enough is announcing this, it can't be that bad of a thing.' I really think he was somewhat of a bridge for a lot of people in the mainstream to see poker in a way that they had not seen it before in terms of respectability. For us, that's his place in poker history.
Van Patten is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Pat; three sons, Nels Van Patten, James Van Patten and Vincent Van Patten; sister Joyce Van Patten; and half-brother Timothy Van Patten.
Support for Vince Van Patten poured in, especially from his WPT family:
To @VinceVanP_WPT & family: So sorry about your loss. Your Dad = #hollywoodlegend #familyman #greatlife https://t.co/WtfpYHzlT1Follow @MikeSexton_WPT
Rest in peace, Dick Van Patten. Our thoughts and prayers go out to @VinceVanP_WPT and his family. http://t.co/Txe0Wi8u3vFollow @WPT
Sending love to you and your family @VinceVanP_WPT. https://t.co/BNrMxScem9Follow @LynnGilmartin
Check out the 1994 WSOP Main Event final table to hear some of Van Patten's commentary:
*Lead photo courtesy of Getty.