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Could Alan Thicke be world's favourite TV Dad?

by Jason Winders, BES'10

alan thicke

Alan Thicke, BA’67, had no idea what he was doing.

Having skipped Grades 4 and 6, he arrived at The University of Western Ontario at age 16. Fresh from his small-town life, the 1965 Elliot Lake Secondary School homecoming king admits to boxing up dirty clothes and mailing them home for his mom to wash and return to his dorm. “I had no skills,” he laughs.

Today, the veteran television star reflects fondly on those initial awkward days. “My time at Western, in retrospect, was a great time, and instrumental in everything I have managed to do in my life,” says Thicke, a Delta Upsilon fraternity member. “But by today’s standards, I would consider it to be simple, protected, naive, simple old Canadian values.”

Thicke’s inherent personable nature can belie a remarkable career. “I got lucky in ways that were purely Canadian,” says the man who hosted Wayne Gretzky’s wedding in 1988.

After Western, he joined the CBC working for Lorne Michaels, who later created Saturday Night Live. “They paid so badly in Canada at the CBC that it turned out to be a great advantage,” he says. “You had to do a bunch of things to make a living.”

In the 1970s, Thicke was part of the leading edge of Canadian entertainers into The States. “Now the place is lousy with Canadians; they are everywhere. It used to be a very small, somewhat exclusive club. Happily now, it is not so much,” he says.

He spent his first decade in show business as a writer for icons: Richard Pryor and Flip Wilson, Anne Murray and Glen Campbell. He penned infectious TV theme songs to shows like Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life and Wheel of Fortune. He has hosted numerous radio and television programs, none to more success than CTV’s The Alan Thicke Show (1980-83) and none to more failure than Thicke of the Night (1983-84).

Thicke contends the latter show, which aired against late-night goliath The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, didn’t translate from its afternoon format in Canada into evening in The States. It died in less than one season.

Months afterward, however, he would be tapped to play Jason Seaver on Growing Pains. That role put him along side Bill Cosby (The Cosby Show) and Michael Gross (Family Ties) as the iconic television father figures of the 1980s. He is identified by that role, and its ‘wholesome dad’ persona, to this day.

“It sort of saved my life,” Thicke says of the Seaver role. “I was on a dramatically, universally hated talk show when I first went public in The States. I was so happy to recover from that career suicide with a sitcom. I will always be happy for that.” Today, he can pick and choose his work. He makes recurring appearances on CBS’ How I Met Your Mother, and is currently working on film and Internet projects with comedians Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell. And he continues to write and emcee across North America.

Thicke also remains connected to Ontario and Western. He supports the Alan Thicke Centre for Juvenile Diabetes Research, a venture launched by Thicke and his father, Dr. Brian Thicke (’56), who still practices medicine in Brampton.

“My Canadianess has always been somewhat unique and special,” he says. “I like that. And Western is part of that.”

WEB ONLY - Alan Thicke's advice for his now 13-year-old son when he leaves for university

Alan Thicke has already thought about what he would tell his 13-year-old son, just entering high school this year, when he is ready to head off to university. His advice, admittedly as candid as it is un-Jason Seaverish, showcases a man who made mistakes, but leaned from every one of them.

 “As much as everyone values the academic aspect of going to school, and warns of the dangers and pitfalls of the social possibilities, I come from a more innocent time. I would come down on the other side of that. Your social intercourse and development is extremely important in your university experience. In fact, trying to get it right is really important.

“It has always kind of amused, bemused me that nowhere in our culture are there mandated academic course on socializing. You don’t have to take a course in high school on marriage or relationships or even in psychology (on things like peer pressure, bullying). And then you are thrown into college.

“It would seem to me some sensible information in high school would set you up better for college. At the very least, by time you hit university there should be a course about that social adjustment. This is the first time most people have been away from home.

“I am not coming down on the side of be afraid and not doing anything. I am saying go for it, have your fun and find out what your limits are. Find out what your capacity for alcohol or sex or drugs or any of that is. How do you balance that with your studies? Do you know how late you can afford to stay up on a weekend? Or how wasted you can afford to get? Or how much of your time you can afford to spend with your girlfriend and still get the job done?

“I learned a lot at The Ceeps. I should get a degree in The Ceeps. I went there a couple of times. I tried drinking beer and threw up all over southern Ontario and decided drinking wasn’t really for me. Not a religious judgment or value judgment, it just didn’t quite work for me. Consequently, to this day, I am almost a total non-drinker because I was so bad at it.

“University kind of informs your life and future by finding your own balances, navigating your own way, finding your limitations. How much time you need to study might be different than what other people need.

“We seem to get thrown into situations when we start university that are foreign to us. There are so many other areas where you wouldn’t get thrown into the middle of something.”

This article appeared in the Fall 2011 edition of Alumni Gazette
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