(Reuters) - Bill Daily, who provided comedic support in two classic television sitcoms of the 1960s and 1970s as an astronaut on “I Dream Of Jeannie” and as the flaky neighbor on “The Bob Newhart Show,” died this week at age 91, a spokesman for the actor said.
Daily, known for his quick wit, clean-cut good looks and self-deprecating humor, had recently moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to spend more time with his family, according to a statement late on Friday from his representative, Patterson Lundquist. Daily’s son, Patrick, told the Hollywood Reporter the actor died on Tuesday of natural causes, the magazine said.
“I Dream Of Jeannie” ran for five seasons from 1965 to 1970 on the NBC network. It starred Larry Hagman as a U.S. astronaut whose life is turned upside down when he falls in love with a beautiful blonde genie, played by Barbara Eden.
Daily played Hagman’s best friend, Roger Healey, and the pair went to elaborate lengths to keep Eden’s true identity and magic powers a secret.
“Billy was wonderful to work with,” Eden wrote on Twitter. “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.”
“I Dream Of Jeannie” had a scenario similar to another show running at the same time on the rival ABC network, “Bewitched,” involving a beautiful blonde witch who marries a mortal man.
Two years after “I Dream Of Jeannie” was canceled, Daily landed a key supporting role on “The Bob Newhart Show,” which ran for six seasons from 1972 to 1978 on the CBS network. Daily had known Newhart years before the show was launched.
Newhart, playing a psychologist, served as a splendid straight man to the others in the quirky cast, including Daily as his friendly but not-too-bright airline pilot neighbor Howard Borden. The cast also included Suzanne Pleshette, Peter Bonerz and Marcia Wallace.
“It is wonderful to be known and respected for that show,” Daily said in a 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It had brilliant writing. I am beyond grateful. Bob is the nicest of superstars. He is the best. He is the only comedian I know who is a good listener. He listens and laughs.”
Daily’s character often would pop into Newhart’s apartment, with a quick, “Hi, Bob.” He said that greeting so often that it became his catch phrase. He later named his dog “Hi, Bob.”
Daily said he liked to rehearse his lines repeatedly while Newhart preferred not to rehearse. “He’s very quick and very bright and I’m very slow,” Daily joked on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in 2003. “I was so terrified, I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Pleshette, whose character was named Emily, recalled in a 2006 interview how Daily flubbed a line without realizing it at a taping. “I stopped. He said, ‘Why did you stop?’ I said, ‘Because you called me ‘Enema.’ He said, ‘No one will notice. It’s an e-word,’” Pleshette said.
Daily compared his “I Dream of Jeannie” character to Bob Hope’s daffy persona in old film romps like “Road to Morocco.”
“I was doing Bob Hope. And I thought (Hagman) was Bing Crosby. And I thought (Eden was) Dorothy Lamour,” he said.
Daily was born on Aug. 30, 1927, in Des Moines, Iowa. He started his career as a musician, playing the stand-up bass, before turning to stand-up comedy. He began appearing on shows like “The Mike Douglas Show,” and was noticed by Steve Allen, one of America’s most popular TV hosts, who hired him and used him in comedy sketches.
Daily made a guest appearance on “Bewitched,” then landed the role on “I Dream of Jeannie.” Later in his career, he made frequent appearances on the game show “Match Game” and had a recurring role on the 1980s sitcom “ALF.” He appeared in the TV movies “I Dream of Jeannie ... Fifteen Years Later” (1985) and “I Still Dream of Jeannie” (1991).
Lundquist, Daily’s representative, wrote on Facebook that Bill’s “final wish” was to throw a party, rather than holding a memorial service or a funeral.
“Bill’s philosophy in life was that happiness was a decision you make,” Lundquist wrote. “That was how he lived. Bill enjoyed every bit of his life to the fullest.”
Reporting and writing by Will Dunham Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Bill Trott and Paul Simao