Born in Missouri, entertainer Dick Van Dyke was raised in Danville, Illinois, where repeated viewings of Laurel & Hardy comedies at his local movie palace inspired him to go into show business. Active in high school and community plays in his teens, Van Dyke briefly put his theatrical aspirations aside upon reaching college age. He toyed with the idea of becoming a Presbyterian minister; then, after serving in the Air Force during World War II, opened up a Danville advertising agency. When this venture failed, it was back to show biz, first as a radio announcer for local station WDAN, and later as half of a record-pantomime act called The Merry Mutes (the other half was a fellow named Philip Erickson). While hosting a TV morning show in New Orleans, Van Dyke was signed to a contract by the CBS network. He spent most of his time subbing for other CBS personalities and emceeing such forgotten endeavors as Cartoon Theatre. After making his acting debut as a hayseed baseball player on The Phil Silvers Show, Van Dyke left CBS to free-lance. He hosted a few TV game shows before his career breakthrough as co-star of the 1959 Broadway review The Girls Against the Boys. The following year, he starred in the musical comedy Bye Bye Birdie, winning a Tony Award for his portrayal of mother-dominated songwriter Albert Peterson (it would be his last Broadway show until the short-lived 1980 revival of The Music Man). In 1961, he was cast as comedy writer Rob Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, which after a shaky start lasted five seasons and earned its star three Emmies.He made his movie bow in the 1963 filmization of Bye Bye Birdie, then entered into a flexible arrangement with Walt Disney Studios. His best known films from that era include Mary Poppins (1964), Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN and The Comic, in which he played an amalgam of several self-destructive silent movie comedians. His TV specials remained popular in the ratings, and it was this fact that led to the debut of The New Dick Van Dyke Show in 1971. Despite the creative input of the earlier Dick Van Dyke Show's maven Carl Reiner, the later series never caught on, and petered out after three seasons. A chronic "people pleaser," Van Dyke was loath to display anger or frustration around his co-workers or fans, so he began taking solace in liquor; by 1972, he had become a full-fledged alcoholic. Rather than lie to his admirers or himself any longer, he underwent treatment and publicly admitted his alcoholism -- one of the first major TV stars ever to do so. Van Dyke's public confession did little to hurt his "nice guy" public image, and, now fully and permanently sober, he continued to be sought out for guest-star assignments and talk shows. In 1974, he starred in the TV movie The Morning After, playing an ad executive who destroys his reputation, his marriage and his life thanks to booze. After that Van Dyke, further proved his versatility when he began accepting villainous roles, ranging from a cold-blooded wife murderer in a 1975 Columbo episode to the corrupt district attorney in the 1990 film Dick Tracy. He also made several stabs at returning to weekly television, none of which panned out--until 1993, when he starred as Dr. Mark Sloan in the popular mystery series Diagnosis Murder. He made a few more movie appearances after Diagnosis Murder came to an end, most notably as a retired security guard in the hit family film Night at the Museum. As gifted at writing and illustrating as he is at singing, dancing and clowning, Van Dyke has penned two books, Faith, Hope and Hilarity and Those Funny Kids. From 1992 to 1994, he served as chairman of the Nickelodeon cable service, which was then sweeping the ratings by running Dick Van Dyke Show reruns in prime time. Van Dyke is the brother of award-winning TV personality Jerry Van Dyke, and the father of actor Barry Van Dyke.
Van Dyke left high school in 1944, his senior year, intending to join the United States Army Air Forces for pilot training during World War II. Denied enlistment several times for being underweight, he was eventually accepted for service as a radio announcer before transferring to the Special Services and entertaining troops in the continental United States. He received his high school diploma in 2004 at the age of 78.