Sad news to report today. Dean Jones, Disney icon and star of such family films as The Love Bug and That Darn Cat, has passed away at the age of 84. Star of both the stage and screen, the actor died Tuesday in Los Angeles from Parkinson's disease. He is survived by his wife, Lory Basham Jones, three children, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
Throughout his expansive career, Dean Jones maintain boyish good looks that made him an All-American favorite. He has long been associated with the Walt Disney Company, appearing in many of their live-action family movies. His tenure with the studio began with a call from Walt Disney himself, who praised his work on the 1962 TV show Ensign O'Toole. The actor played the title role on the show, after having served in the Navy. Walt Disney seemed most fascinated by the end of each episode, and Dean Jones only realized much later that it was probably because Ensign O'Toole aired directly before Disney's own NBC show, where Walt would only see the closing credits.
Two years would pass between that initial phone call and a second call from Walt Disney. This time, the creator of the Disney Empire offered Dean Jones a starring role in the 1965 family comedy That Darn Cat! opposite then mega-star Hayley Mills. It would become the first of 10 feature films that the actor would make for Disney Studios. Most of them fell into the supernatural genre. His biggest success came with the 1969 comedy adventure The Love Bug, which introduced the VW bug known as Herbie to the world.
After shooting The Love Bug, Dean Jones would return to his first love, which was the stage. He won the lead role in Stephen Sondheim's classic musical 'Company', which focused on marital angst. While he soon pulled out of the production sighting 'family problems', it wasn't before he was featured as part of the Grammy-winning Broadway cast album. Which was appropriate, since he started his career as a singer before appearing in a string of mostly forgettable films throughout the 1950s.
One of Dean Jones's most famous non-Disney movies was the 1957 classic Jailhouse Rock, which starred the legendary Elvis Presley. Dean Jones had a small role as a DJ. It wasn't until 1960 that the evolving thespian would make his Broadway debut starring opposite Jane Fonda in 'There Was a Little Girl', playing her boyfriend in a short-lived play about the rape of a young woman. Decidedly not Disney fare at the time. He would also go onto star in the Broadway production of 'Under the Yum Yum Tree'. It was a role he would later play in the movie adaptation. He would also reteam with Jane Fonda on the big screen in the 1966 film Any Wednesday.
It wasn't until he joined the Disney camp that Dean Jones really hit his stride as an actor. Though Walt Disney would die a year after the release of the actor's first movie for the studio, That Darn Cat!, Dean Jones would continue to make one hit after the next for Disney's live-action division. His other Disney films include no_movie|Monkeys, Go Home, Million Dollar Duck, and The Shaggy D.A.. His last film for the studio was the 1977 sequel Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. Though, he would return for a small role in the 1997 remake That Darn Cat starring Christina Ricci. And he would also appear in the TV version of The Love Bug.
Dean Jones would continue to work throughout his 70s, appearing in a number of TV shows and movies. It wasn't until 1995 that Dean Jones was finally honored by Disney and given a spot in the Disney Legends Hall of Fame. Though he hasn't appeared on screen since 2009, Dean Jones is beloved by fans everywhere, and will always be remembered for the great performances and family friendly entertainment he bestowed upon the world.