Mama's Family Star Ken Berry Is Dead At 85

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A veteran of television screens and theatre stages for over 60 years, actor Ken Berry could be relied upon to get a smile out of anyone with his quick wit and physical pratfalls. Sadly, Berry has left us all laughing one final time, as the Mama's Family and F Troop star died over the weekend. He was 85 years old.

On Saturday, December 1, Ken Berry passed away at the Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank California. That news was confirmed by Berry's former wife and friend of many decades, Jackie Joseph, though a direct cause of death has not been stated at the time of this writing.

Ken Berry was born on November 3, 1933, in Moline, Illinois. His performance talents were soon witnessed, and he spent part of his teens as part of a traveling song-and-dance group. His dreams were sidelined when he volunteered to join the U.S. Army after high school, but during his second year, as part of the entertainment-minded Special Services, he worked under future Star Trek legend Leonard Nimoy, who backed Berry's talents.

Prior to hitting TV fame, Ken Berry rocked his song-and-dance approach in Las Vegas, opening for Hollywood legends Abbott & Costello, among other acts. He joined The Billy Barnes Revue production in 1959, which is where he met his aforementioned first wife Jackie Joseph, to whom he was married from 1960-1976.

The 1980 TV ad below features Ken Berry's song-and-dance talents, which he'd initially thought was going to be the bread and butter of his career.

After several roles in shows such as Dr. Kildare and The Dick Van Dyke Show, Ken Berry landed his first big starring role as the sneeze-happy Captain Parmenter on the goofy war sitcom F-Troop. Though the comedy only lasted two seasons, it became extremely popular in syndication, thanks to places like Nick at Nite.

On F-Troop, Berry co-starred with Larry Storch, who shared a touching post about the actor's passing.

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Following F-Troop, Ken Berry landed another big role as widower Sam Jones on The Andy Griffith Show. He was then given the lead role on the spinoff Mayberry R.F.D. after Andy Griffith decided to leave the enormously popular flagship sitcom. The show lasted from 1968-1971.

Berry, who'd taken the top prize in 1957 on the TV talent show Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, was noticed by Carol Burnett in those early years, and the two became frequent collaborators. He was often part of The Carol Burnett Show's guest star lineup throughout its ten-year run, and also later starred in the TV movie Eunice, which was the predecessor for the southern fried sitcom Mama's Family. (Fun fact: Ken Berry actually played brother Philip in Eunice, though that character was replaced by Vinton for the TV show.)

Once again in 1983, Ken Berry found himself a TV star as the lead cast of Mama's Family, with Carol Burnett regular Vicki Lawrence aged up for the title role. The show's initial NBC run had Berry's Vinton and two children Sonja and Buzz moving in with Lawrence's Thelma, though the story changed up completely when NBC cancelled Mama's Family after two seasons.

Mama's Family lived on for another 4 seasons as one of syndication's most popular programs, ending in 1990 after Vicki Lawrence decided to call it quits. From that revamped era, few will likely ever forget Ken Berry's frequent cringe-worthy liplocks with co-star Dorothy Lyman as Vinton's libidinous second wife Naomi.

After Mama's Family, Ken Berry's career started to subside, though he did take roles in projects such as The Golden Girls and The New Adventures of Batman, and also appeared as himself in retrospectives about The Andy Griffith Show and others.

Ken Berry could have seen his career head off in a different direction in the 1970s. He'd appeared on a 1974 episode of The Brady Bunch as the character Ken Kelly, for an episode that was crafted as a backdoor pilot for Kelly's Kids, in which Berry would have played the father of three adopted chldren of differing backgrounds. (Todd Lookinland, younger brother of Mike "Bobby Brady" Lookinland, played one of those kids.) That concept never made it to series, however.

Below is a post from Berry's former wife Jackie Joseph, and features the actor with his longtime partner Susie Walsh.

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Here at CinemaBlend, we send our thoughts and condolences to the family and friends of Ken Berry in their time of mourning.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.