Another ubiquitous TV presence has passed away — Bill Daily, famous as affable Major Healey on I Dream of Jeannie and as nutty Howard Borden on The Bob Newhart Show, died Tuesday in New Mexico, ExtraTV reports. He was 91.
Born August 30, 1927, in Iowa, Daily got his start as a performer in a comedy/jazz trio in high school. After the Korean War, his studies to be a theatrical director at the Goodman Theatre School landed him gigs at WGN (reporting on the Cubs) and directing, writing and starring in a daily variety show on WMAQ-TV called Club 60.
From there, he worked for The Mike Douglas Show, which put him on the radar of TV great Steve Allen (1921-2000). Allen, impressed after seeing Daily do a comedy bit, recommended him for a part on Bewitched, which wound up being his TV debut in 1964.
That spot, plus performances on The Farmer's Daughter (1965) and My Mother the Car (1965) helped him secure his role as Major Roger Healey, the ditzy second banana to Larry Hagman (1931-2012) and Barbara Eden (b. 1931) on I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970).
The show was so popular it was revisited with I Dream of Jeannie: Fifteen Years Later (1985), a TV special in which Daily participated.
A pilot was crafted for Daily when the show ended, but it failed to get picked up. Instead, a funny spot on Mary Tyler Moore (1972) led to his next big job, playing off-the-wall Howard Borden on The Bob Newhart Show from 1972-1978.
It was an odd reunion with Bob Newhart (b. 1929) for Daily — the two had been friends since the 1950s, when Newhart served as Daily's accountant!
Daily, a regular on Match Game, had several other series-regular positions on TV, including his own short-lived Small & Frye (1983), and the series Starting from Scratch (1988-1989) and ALF (1987-1989), and he was a staple of sitcoms until 1997, when he mostly retired. He did play a small part in the 2011 film Horrorween, which became his last filmed performance.
Since then, Daily did commercials and was a fixture at autograph shows, and was always happy to chat with fans about his past achievements. He was called eternally upbeat my many, and left instructions for there to be no funeral or service to honor his death, but that a party should be held instead.
Daily was remembered warmly by the stars of his two most famous gigs, with both Barbara Eden and Bob Newhart touching on Daily's upbeat, likable nature:
Our favorite zany astronaut, Bill Daily has passed. Billy was wonderful to work with. He was a funny, sweet man that kept us all on our toes. I'm so thankful to have known and worked with that rascal. Until we meet again Billy, xo -B #RIPBillDaily pic.twitter.com/OVZjaWB9CP
— Barbara Eden (@Barbara_Eden) September 8, 2018
Bill Daily & I go back to Chicago in the 50's. He and I were both trying to get into standup. Later, he joined the Bob Newhart Show. He was our bullpen guy - you could always go to him. He was one of the most positive people I've ever known. I will miss him dearly
— Bob Newhart (@BobNewhart) September 8, 2018
Moosie Drier (b. 1964) ...
... who played Daily's character's son on The Bob Newhart Show, said on Facebook:
I'm here to say that he was truly the kindest man I knew in my childhood. We lost another great one. : (