American dancer, singer, and sitcom star Ken Berry, best known for his turns on F-Troop and Mama’s Family, passed away on December 1, 2018. Patricia Aidem, a hospital spokeswoman, confirmed the death but did not give a cause. He was 85 years old.
Kenneth Ronald Berry was born on November 3, 1933 in Moline, Illinois. By the age of 12, Berry had already developed a desire to be a dancer and singer. This desire was intensified by constant viewings of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in such films as Easter Parade, Royal Wedding, and Summer Stock. At 15, Berry was already enrolled in tap dance classes and won a local talent competition sponsored by radio personality Horace Heidt. Heidt then invited Berry to join his traveling performance ensemble, “The Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program.” He toured the U.S. and Europe for 15 months with the program, dancing and singing for the public.
After graduation, Berry volunteered for the Army where he served under Sergeant Leonard Nimoy – future star of Star Trek – who encouraged him to go to Hollywood and pursue acting. Upon arriving in Hollywood, Berry made early television appearances on variety programs hosted by Garry Moore, Carol Burnett, Arthur Godfrey, Bob Newhart, and Ed Sullivan. He went on to appear in such films as Hello Down There, Herbie Rides Again, and The Cat From Outer Space, as well as the Broadway production of The Billy Barnes Revue. Between 1965 to 1967, Berry starred as clumsy Captain Wilton Parmenter in ABC’s Western sitcom F-Troop. He later joined the last few episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, before becoming the lead in the spinoff Mayberry R.F.D.
Over the next two decades Berry guest starred on The Bob Newhart Show, The Julie Andrews Hour, several Mitzi Gaynor specials, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Donny & Marie Show, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, CHiPs, and The Golden Girls. He was later cast as Vinton Harper in The Carol Burnett Show spinoff, Mama’s Family. Airing on NBC from 1983 to 1984, Mama’s Family ran for a total of 130 episodes and featured comic actors like Vicki Lawrence, Dorothy Lyman, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, and Beverly Archer. During his later career Berry toured the U.S. in various theatrical performances, including Sugar, The Music Man, I Do! I Do!, and Gene Kelly’s A Salute to Broadway.
Berry’s first marriage to actress Jackie Joseph ended in divorce in 1967. The pair adopted two children together, John and Jennifer. His son passed in 2016. Survivors include his partner, Susie Walsh and his daughter Jennifer.