LOS ANGELES — Bill Daily, the comic sidekick to leading men on the sitcoms "I Dream of Jeannie" and "The Bob Newhart Show," has died, a family spokesman said Saturday.
Daily died of natural causes in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Tuesday, at his home where he had been living with his son, J. Patrick Daily, spokesman Steve Moyer told The Associated Press.
Daily was not a household name, but he was a household face, familiar to many millions of baby-boomer viewers in the 1960s and '70s from two of the era's biggest shows.
He played Major Roger Healy in all five seasons of "I Dream of Jeannie" from 1965 to 1970. Healy was the astronaut partner to Larry Hagman's Major Anthony Nelson as both men tried to contain the antics of Jeannie, the childlike blond bombshell who lived in a bottle and was played by Barbara Eden.
Eden tweeted Friday night that Daily was "our favorite zany astronaut."
"Billy was wonderful to work with," Eden said. "He was a funny, sweet man that kept us all on our toes. I'm so thankful to have known and worked with that rascal."
Just two years later he landed a very similar role and had an even longer run on "The Bob Newhart Show," playing aviator Howard Borden behind Newhart's psychologist Dr. Bob Hartley for 140 episodes between 1972 and 1978.
Newhart, now 89, said in a statement Saturday that he and Daily had been friends since both were trying to break into comedy in Chicago in the 1950s, and Daily was a clutch comedian that could make anything work on the sitcom.
"I called him our bullpen man. Whenever we were having trouble with a script on the show, we'd have Bill make an appearance," Newhart said. "He was one of the most positive people I ever knew, and we'll dearly miss him."
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Daily saved scenes instead of stealing them like other sidekicks of the era. He specialized in support, upping the comic moments of his co-stars — his Newhart character was, fittingly, a co-pilot — with a goofy warmth.
Actor James Urbaniak called him the "king of affable vulnerability" on Twitter Friday.
But like all co-stars on long-running shows, he got occasional episodes of his own, including one where he stole the role of Jeannie's master from Hagman.
Our favorite zany astronaut, Bill Daily has passed. Billy was wonderful to work with. He was a funny, sweet man that kept us all on our toes. I'm so thankful to have known and worked with that rascal. Until we meet again Billy, xo -B #RIPBillDailypic.twitter.com/OVZjaWB9CP