Dick Van Dyke: Celebrating the Comedy Legend Ahead of His 98th Birthday Bash

Dick Van Dyke

Dick Van Dyke during the taping of his CBS 98th birthday special, 'Dick Van Dyke: 98 Years of Magic,' which airs on Dec. 21. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS ©2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Does bringing joy to others help you live longer? There may be something to that. All in the Family producer Norman Lear was 101 when he passed away earlier this month. Betty White was days shy of turning 100 when she died at the end of 2022.

Hats off to CBS, therefore, for celebrating Dick Van Dyke while he is still a spry young whippersnapper of 98. The Mary Poppins entertainer will be saluted on Thursday, Dec. 21, with the two-hour special Dick Van Dyke: 98 Years of Magic.

Also set to stream on Paramount+, the special will feature many guests, including Julie Andrews, Carol Burnett, Jason Alexander, Rob Reiner, Ted Danson, William Shatner, Martin Short, Jane Seymour, Judd Apatow, Mel Brooks, Ken Jeong and Zachary Levi. Musical tributes and songs from some of Van Dyke’s other career triumphs – including the Broadway hit Bye Bye Birdie and the feature film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – will be part of the celebration.

“I started with CBS under contract in 1955 with the CBS morning show, then The Dick Van Dyke Show and Diagnosis Murder,” Van Dyke was quoted saying on the CBS release. “I’ve been with the CBS family for almost 70 years, and I couldn’t be prouder. I’m incredibly honored that CBS will be throwing a 98th birthday special for me. Can’t wait to be part of the show!”


Dick Van Dyke
Top Row: Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Tichina Arnold, Beth Behrs, Jason Alexander, Zachary Levi, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Amanda Kloots, Tony Danza, Skylar Astin, Rufus Wainwright, and Jane Seymour. Bottom Row: Brad Garrett, Van Dyke’s wife Arlene Silver, Dick Van Dyke, and JoJo Siwa at the taping of the special Dick Van Dyke: 98 Years of Magic. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS ©2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


The remarkable thing about Van Dyke is that he is not just still around; he’s still putting on a show. As he wrote in his 2015 autobiography, titled Keep Moving: “You don’t have to act your age. You don’t even have to feel it. And if it does attempt to elbow its way into your life, you do not have to pay attention.”

While he does now rely on the use of a cane and, on occasion, a wheelchair, Van Dyke has lived up to the title of his book. In the past year alone, this ultimate zoomer was a singing, dancing guest on The Masked Singer – at 97, their oldest celebrity participant ever. The judges and the studio audience went wild as he was unmasked from his large, furry gnome costume. As fans of the opening sequence to The Dick Van Dyke Show might say, thank God there was no ottoman for him to trip over on stage!

Van Dyke has outlived every other adult cast member of his self-titled situation comedy, which originally aired from 1961 to 1966. (Larry Mathews, who played the Petrie’s only child Ritchie, is now 67.)

That black and white series was very much rooted in the Kennedy era, with the pilot filmed the same day that the U.S. president was inaugurated, Jan. 20, 1961. The main character, TV head writer Robert Petrie (Van Dyke), had that Kennedy hair, with his wife, Laura Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore) just a pillbox hat away from being a Jackie Kennedy looka-like.


Dick Van Dyke
Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke in The Dick Van Dyke Show. Photo: Everrett Collection/The Canadian Press


And it had vigour. This TV couple was young, attractive and looked like they were really into each other. Rob and Laura’s two single beds, a holdover from a more prudish era on television, was the one inauthentic note on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

In October, Van Dyke made a cameo appearance as himself on The Simpsons, and last September he took on another gig, his first on a soap opera. He played Drake Hogestyn’s character’s biological father on Day of our Lives. He even danced a few steps in a hospital scene, charming every member of the cast.

Fans have experienced the same Van Dyke magic in person or on TikTok, where recent videos of him out in person at Disneyland, with his wife, Arlene Silver, show him enjoying – and joining in with – a barbershop quartet. For years, he did hospital visits with his own singing troupe, the Vantastix.

Sometimes you hear the expression, “Never meet your heroes.” The fear is that the experience can be jarring if a sports or Hollywood celebrity is having a bad day or simply doesn’t live up to one’s lofty expectations.  

As someone who has interviewed many famous people, my experience has been that the bigger they are, the nicer they are. That was thankfully very true of Van Dyke, who I met on a couple of press conference occasions with other reporters.

The first time was more than 20 years ago at a Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles. Van Dyke spoke candidly about his struggles with alcohol, especially in the ’70s. He had a few of us in stitches when I asked if playing a priest with a drinking problem had a positive personal effect when he was making the 1979 feature The Runner Stumbles. “No – I drank more!” said Van Dyke.

In 2003, at 78, Van Dyke reunited with Mary Tyler Moore for the PBS presentation of The Gin Game. At the TCA press conference with Moore for that event, Van Dyke suggested he was glad to be back acting with Moore because the two of them had great chemistry, that acting wasn’t what he was best at, and that he depended on her a lot.

“Get out of here!” scoffed Moore. “You’re brilliant.”

His former Dick Van Dyke Show castmates, including Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie (Buddy and Sally), always maintained that Van Dyke was egoless and had no idea how talented he was. His mentor and producer, Carl Reiner – who himself passed away in 2020 at 98 – wrote in the intro to Van Dyke’s book, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, that, “This man can do anything!”

Van Dyke, however, felt that physical comedy, not acting in general, was his true forte.

“I’m kind of a song and dance man,” he said at the Gin Game press conference. “I love a musical probably better than anything.”


Dick Van Dyke
Dick Van Dyke isn’t just surviving, but thriving. In the last year he has taken on numerous projects including appearing as a singing, dancing guest on The Masked Singer where, at 97, he became their oldest celebrity participant ever. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Laura Johansen


Right before that session began, I experienced my own moment of Van Dyke magic. I happened to be in the hallway outside the hotel banquet room when he and Moore greeted each other before heading into the session. With her in New York and he in Los Angeles, it had been years since they had seen each other.

Van Dyke, that old song and dance smoothie, immediately broke into one of those musical numbers they would throw into the series two or three times a season to give the writers a break. Moore stepped right into it and, right there and then in the hallway, with very few witnesses, the two danced and harmonized for a moment in time. Suddenly I was seven again, and the whole world was black and white.

How real was that chemistry back in the day between Rob and Laura Petrie? Oh, it was there all right. Moore admitted during the press conference that “the amazing thing is, we never had an affair. I always thought of it as a terrible waste.”

Let it be said that both Moore – who passed away at 80 in 2017 – and Van Dyke finally met lasting loves late in life.

And blame no one for falling in love with them both.

Especially Van Dyke, who has a joy and energy that makes you feel good about your world, the future, and each other. 


Dick Van Dyke Turns 95 And is Still Laughing, Dancing And Leaving His Mark on Pop Culture