Alan Thicke was never known as a comedian, but his playful sense of humor allowed him to impact our collective comedy psyche for more than a generation — as a writer/producer of a cult classic talk-show parody, songwriter for classic 1980s sitcoms, host of an infamous late-night talk show challenge to Johnny Carson, and star of a beloved primetime network sitcom. Thicke also was a huge hockey fan, hosting and appearing alongside the greats of the game and getting on the rink himself. He died Tuesday following a heart attack while playing hockey with his youngest son and others in California. Thicke was 69.
Thicke was an icon in Canada, with a spot on Canada’s Walk of Fame, and just appeared in a season two episode of Fuller House, which debuted last week on Netflix. His cameo included an inside joke, having him interacting with the sister of his TV son from Growing Pains.
In a new interview with CBC Radio, Thicke talked about Growing Pains as well as his stint before that as a talk-show host, which began in the afternoons in Canada before moving to Los Angeles in 1983 for a late-night run, Thicke of the Night, against The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. As Thicke told the CBC, “I wasn’t very good at late night, which is the domain of stand up comedy. I was schmooze-i-er kind of guy.”
Thicke said Carson made it tough by blackballing any guests from appearing on The Tonight Show if they did Thicke’s show. But by the same token, plenty of musical acts and comedians flocked to him precisely because they couldn’t get on Johnny anyhow.
Back in 1987, Thicke already had a positive spin on his career thanks to Growing Pains. He told Bryant Gumbel on TODAY: “I can’t be unhappy about a show that led me to the show I’m now doing, which is a wonderful success and has made my life terrific.” Thicke added: “I’ll never stop appreciating what I have now as a result of that (Thicke of the Night), and I probably appreciate it now even more keenly.”
Even before all of that, though, Thicke had made enduring contributions to our comedy pop culture.
He produced a game show, The Wizard of Odds, that introduced Alex Trebek to America. He composed the theme song to game shows you do remember, including Wheel of Fortune and The Joker’s Wild. And he hosted game shows in Canada in the 1970s, too.
Norman Lear hired Thicke in 1977 as head writer and producer of Fernwood 2 Night, a spiritual predecessor of all mock talk shows to come. Fernwood 2 Night starred Martin Mull and Fred Willard as host and sidekick of a fictional talk show in the middle of the Midwest. Then came the sitcom theme songs. Diff’rent Strokes. The Facts of Life. Hello, Larry. You know you know them.
Or you can just ask Paul F. Tompkins and Scott Aukerman to sing the “Alan Thicke medley,” as they’ve done before on Comedy Bang! Bang!
Thicke went on to achieve success in his native Canada in front of the camera, hosting the daytime Alan Thicke Show for three years before taking on the Thicke of the Night challenge for one year. But his growing pains there couldn’t have led to a more apt upturn as the patriarch of the Seaver family on ABC for seven seasons from 1985-1992.
Or see Thicke and his TV family reunite in 2011 for Good Morning America.
Thicke also continued to host beauty pageants, parades, award shows and more over the years. Here’s a look at Alan Thicke opening the 1988 NHL Awards with a custom song that’s not only so Canadian it hurts because you’ll laugh so much, but also came out a year before Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Thicke started that fire!
The NHL family is sad to learn of the passing of longtime hockey fan Alan Thicke. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. pic.twitter.com/5ADyWRksuf
— NHL (@NHL) December 14, 2016
Thicke guested in several TV series after Growing Pains, most prominently via recurring characters on Hope & Gloria and How I Met Your Mother. He agreed to do Celebrity Wife Swap with longtime pal Gilbert Gottfried, who also appeared with Thicke on his POP reality series, Unusually Thicke.
Just this past year, Thicke also appeared as himself in both Grandfathered on FOX and This Is Us on NBC. Proving he could joke about himself til the end, here you can see Thicke in a siamese-twinsie outfit with David Alan Grier to perform “David Alan Thicke” in a recent episode of The Eric Andre Show on Adult Swim.
Rest in peace, Alan Thicke. You will be missed, but your contributions will remain with us.
Thanks for the laughs, Alan Thicke! You'll be missed. pic.twitter.com/3GM3shwG3F
— Funny Or Die (@funnyordie) December 14, 2016