Ralph Waite, a fixture on American TV screens during the 1972-1981 run of 'The Waltons,' died Thursday. He was 85.

Waite had numerous recurring roles on current programs, including 'Bones,' 'NCIS' and 'Days of Our Lives.' He didn't begin acting until age 30, but soon got small parts in highly acclaimed films like 'Cool Hand Luke' and 'Five Easy Pieces.' He was also an ordained Presbyterian minister, after having graduated from the Yale School of Divinity.

But it was his role as John Walton on 'The Waltons' that bonded him with American families. The show, about a large family in rural Virginia during the Great Depression, had a huge following during its nine seasons, and the cast reunited several times for TV specials and movies.