America's dad was Canadian, and he never forgot it.
"I'm a Canadian citizen after all these years," Alan Thicke told the Canadian Press at the Banff World Media Festival in 2014. "I'm proud of that; I think it's part of my identity," added Mr. Thicke, who earned the nickname "America's Dad" playing good-hearted and wise psychiatrist father Jason Seaver on the hit 1980s sitcom Growing Pains.
"He was a bigger flag-waver than me, if that's even possible," says the composer and music producer David Foster, a fellow transplanted Canadian.
Mr. Thicke took his role as a Canadian in Los Angeles very seriously from the beginning, opening his home to a parade of Canadians who aspired to follow in his footsteps – including Alex Trebek, who, as a new arrival, stayed in the guest room of the home Mr. Thicke and his first wife, Gloria Loring, owned on Mulholland Drive.
And when a stray cat wandered into their house and didn't leave, Thicke – a famously devoted hockey fan – named it Jean Béliveau, after the Montreal Canadiens star. When the cat turned out to be a girl – she had kittens – she was renamed Mrs. Béliveau.
"There was a lot of Canadiana in our lives," says Ms. Loring, mother to two of Mr. Thicke's sons, Brennan Thicke and Robin Thicke, the musician. Mr. Thicke had a third son with his second wife, Gina Tolleson; Carter Thicke was named after two baseball heroes who played on Canadian teams, Gary Carter and Joe Carter. In 2005, Mr. Thicke married Tanya Callau, a Bolivian-born actress and model.
Family was central to Mr. Thicke's life – and not just on TV. When he called Ms. Loring in January, 1970, to ask her for a date – he had seen her at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, where she was performing – she was inclined to turn him down; he was a stranger after all, even if he did tell her he worked for the CBC. But instead of inviting her to a restaurant, he asked her to dinner with his family in Brampton.
"I went: Well, you know, that sounds nice – having dinner at someone's home – because I was on the road all by myself. So I went and just loved his family. I think I fell in love with his family before I fell in love with him."
Mr. Thicke's packed résumé includes everything from hosting TV talk shows – the Alan Thicke Show in Canada and the ill-fated Thicke of the Night in the U.S. – to starring on sitcoms to writing theme songs for TV shows, including The Facts of Life and Diff'rent Strokes. He hosted beauty pageants and parades and wrote two books. He was a Hollywood celebrity and a Canadian icon who continued to work in both places.
Despite his professional success, he maintained the tremendous work ethic of his Toronto and Hollywood salad days, appearing on too many shows to list, including This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Canada's Worst Handyman (he pleaded for help renovating his condemned Delta Upsilon frat house at Western University), Celebrity Wife Swap (with his third wife, Tanya Callau) and Celebrity Family Feud. When he was asked, during the speed round, to name a famous "Justin," he answered "Trudeau." (That other famous Canadian, "Bieber" was taken.)
When the host expressed some doubt over the response, Mr. Thicke energetically protested "That's the Prime Minister of Canada."
Mr. Trudeau tweeted Wednesday that Mr. Thicke "was proudly Canadian, never forgetting his roots as he soared to stardom."
Mr. Thicke, who less than two weeks ago received the Canadian Icon Award from the Whistler Film Festival, died suddenly on Tuesday at the age of 69. He had been playing hockey with teenage son, Carter.
"He certainly retained his love of Canada and his Canadian identity," Ms. Loring said on Wednesday.
"For heaven's sake, he had a heart attack and died while he was playing hockey with his son. Come on; it doesn't get more Canadian than that – family and hockey."
Alan Thicke was born in Kirkland Lake, Ont., on March 1, 1947. His grandfather owned a GM dealership, his grandmother played piano to accompany silent movies and at the same theatre, his mother was a tap dancer, according to a 1996 profile in Saturday Night.
As a kid, he did not see television until he was seven, he has said.
He was a good student, skipping grades four and six, according to a profile in the Western Alumni Gazette, and was the 1965 homecoming king at Elliot Lake Secondary School. After a short stint in theology school, he arrived at Western when he was 16 and made it into the prestigious Delta Upsilon fraternity, where he was given the nickname "Thicker."
He had a guitar his mother had bought for his birthday and played Gordon Lightfoot songs in his dorm room. "I think that's what attracted all the women to him in those days; he could play guitar and he knew all the folk songs," says Frances Eberhard, a fraternity brother.
Mr. Thicke drove a Volkswagen Beetle and liked to live spontaneously; one night, on the way home from an event, he asked Mr. Eberhard if he wanted to go to Florida instead. He did, so they drove to Fort Lauderdale, where they camped on the beach and ate 15-cent hamburgers.
In London, Mr. Thicke met radio host Bill Brady, who gave the university student work copywriting and hosting overnights at radio station CFPL.
After Western, Mr. Thicke went to Toronto where at the CBC, he did everything from chauffeur stars and fetch coffee to sing, dance and write theme songs, according to a 1978 piece in The Globe and Mail. He also wrote for The Tommy Hunter Show.
His whirlwind romance with Ms. Loring, who later became a soap opera star on Days of Our Lives, saw the two of them load up his belongings in Toronto, drive to New York to get hers and move to California. She was getting work there and he wanted to start his writing career, she says. They married that August.
"Hollywood was quite intimidating, everything about it," Mr. Thicke said in the documentary Gone South: How Canada Invented Hollywood. He recalled arriving, bunking at a motel and feeling lonely – and that's when he saw in the newspaper that the L.A. Kings had a game that night. He got a ticket, saw the game – and felt at home. He says his first friends in L.A. were hockey players.
He got work – both in Hollywood and back home in Canada – with all kinds of shows, including The Bobby Darin Show, The René Simard Show and TV specials for stars including Barry Manilow and Anne Murray.
"He was 24 and I was 26. Both of us, green as grass," Ms. Murray says. "We bonded because we were both Canadians in Hollywood. We stayed in touch ever since. He was a like a brother to me. He produced and wrote eight of my television specials. He would welcome the audience. He had the gift of gab. He could get in front of any kind of crowd. I was always in awe of that."
"I've been called a workaholic," Mr. Thicke told The Globe in 1978. "But it's not punishment. I love it. I love every minute of it."
He was hired by TV legend Norman Lear as a writer on Fernwood 2 Night, and writer and producer on America 2-Night, which in a 1978 review, The Globe called "a satire of talk-show TV that is so successful it makes you positively squirm."
Mr. Lear says Mr. Thicke was off-the-wall hilarious and offbeat. "That's why he was so infinitely valuable. ... He shared the sense of the ridiculous. He had a glorious sense of humour," Mr. Lear says.
"I'm a firm believer that laughter adds time to one's life," adds Mr. Lear, who is 94. "So he added time to mine; I wish I added more to his."
Mr. Thicke had the opportunity to host a real talk show in the early 1980s. The Alan Thicke Show was a daytime chat show recorded in Vancouver, with guests, according to IMDB, that included Anthony Hopkins, Margaret Trudeau and Wayne Gretzky, who was a friend.
In 1983, he was given his own late-night U.S. talk show, Thicke of the Night. Mr. Foster – a guest on both shows – says Mr. Thicke was a terrific interviewer.
"The guy was a total giver. He would ask a question but then would not impart his own opinion; he would just let you go," Mr. Foster says. "He didn't interrupt. Which was a great quality."
It wasn't enough, however. Mr. Thicke was up against Johnny Carson, the undisputed king of late night. The show lasted only nine months.
Two years later came the show that "sort of saved my life," Mr. Thicke later told the Western Alumni Gazette. He played kind, wholesome psychiatrist dad Jason Seaver on Growing Pains, dispensing solid advice in tidy, neatly wrapped episodes. The show ran for seven seasons and would remain the role with which Mr. Thicke was most closely associated – even as he continued to thrive with a busy and satisfying career. Recent achievements included induction into the Canadian Walk of Fame in 2013.
His real-life role as dad was also central to his life; he was a devoted father, by all accounts. He also had two grandsons. To them, he was "Pops."
"He was a true family man, and a really good man. I know a lot of people know him as the funny guy – comedian and talk show host, actor and all that stuff. What made him happiest the most was his family … that was his rock," says actor Kristy Swanson, who dated Mr. Thicke for four years.
Comedian Mark Critch recalls Mr. Thicke appearing on an '80s-themed episode of This Hour Has 22 Minutes in 2011, and playing him songs his son Robin was working on.
"I was listening to Blurred Lines with Alan Thicke before it was released on his cell phone," says Mr. Critch, who says Mr. Thicke was "incredibly" proud. "He looked like his kid had just learned to skate for the first time."
When Robin ran into legal trouble over the song, his dad was very supportive, according to people close to Mr. Thicke.
Alan Thicke, of course, knew a great deal about music; he wrote numerous theme songs for TV shows, including sitcoms and game shows.
Mr. Foster, who helped him with the original Wheel of Fortune theme, says Mr. Thicke was "so bright" and a great collaborator.
Mr. Foster says Mr. Thicke worked very hard on his friendships. He invited people over for Canadian Thanksgiving each year. And just recently he invited Mr. Foster and legendary TV director James Burrows to an L.A. Kings game. They had seats right behind the glass.
"We were like three teenagers. It was just the best night," Mr. Foster says.
In addition to friends, Ms. Loring says, family was everything to Mr. Thicke.
"We were divorced 30 years ago and his sense of humour always rose to the occasion. A divorce is very painful and very hard and [prompts] very difficult feelings and there's all of that to wade through and yet Alan found a way to make it funny. He said 'I was happily married for 14 years; unfortunately Gloria was only happily married for 11.'"
Ms. Loring recalls very Canadian Christmases back with the Thicke family in Brampton, Ont., where they would eat croissants, tourtière and cabbage rolls and drink pink champagne. Ms. Loring, Mr. Thicke and their families continued to spend holidays together. They shared Thanksgiving dinner recently, at Robin's home in Malibu.
"I remember looking at Alan with his white beard and thinking oh my God, honey you're finally getting old and so am I – older," Ms. Loring says. "And I thought isn't it going to be sweet that we can have so many years ahead of us and watch our grandchildren graduate high school and all of that. And now we don't have that with him."