Bill Daily, the veteran sitcom actor who played Roger Healey and airline navigator Howard Borden, two of the most beloved affable goofballs in the history of television comedy, has died. According to Variety, Daily was 91.
Although he started out as a stand-up, and worked as behind-the-camera talent in Chicago-area TV—where he first met friend and future co-star Bob Newhart—Daily eventually made the move into acting. After a few appearances on sitcoms like Bewitched and My Mother The Car, he broke big in 1965, when he was cast in a regular role on Sidney Sheldon’s I Dream Of Jeannie.
Daily later noted that his take on Major Healey—who, like his later Newhart Show character, Howard, was a variant on the old “annoying sitcom neighbor” archetype—was based largely on an impression of Bob Hope, playing him as an occasionally womanizing, scheming dope who nevertheless charmed audiences on a regular basis. Daily ended up spending five seasons on the series, staying with it until its cancellation in 1970. (He also happily returned for multiple reunion specials across the following years).
Two years later, Daily was working alongside his old pal Newhart on his self-titled and critically beloved sitcom. As Howard Borden, aimless airline navigator, Daily dialed back some of his Jeannie character’s more self-serving edges, investing the character instead with a clueless childishness that made him a perfect foil for reserved, put-upon psychologist Robert Hartley. Daily spent six years on the series, barging in to the Hartley apartment, mooching food from his buddies, and coming to Bob to solve his ridiculous romantic woes.
But while his sidekick credentials were unquestionable, Daily’s subsequent efforts to lead a series of his own never came to much fruition. (Here’s a telling quote from his Wikipedia page about his second such effort, 1988's Starting From Scratch: “It fared slightly better than [earlier solo effort] Frye, and was canceled after one season.”) Still, he appeared regularly in guest star roles—including a semi-regular gig on ALF, and a single-episode appearance on Newhart, riffing on his and Bob’s old dynamic—and apparently leveraged his love of magic into a series of kid-focused specials, Bill Daily’s Hocus-Pocus Gang. (Tragically, video of the specials doesn’t appear to have made its way online.)
Given how well known his face is to hordes of older viewers and rerun junkies, Daily’s resumé is shorter than one might expect; discounting his regular appearances on panel shows and the like, he only had 37 credits to his name, most of them only in an episode or two of a series. Still, as much as anyone in the sitcom’s long history, he proved the creed of the great TV second bananas, over and over again: You don’t have to have your name in the title to get the biggest laughs.