I don’t actually know much about Jerry Van Dyke and his life, aside from his stint on the series Coach, which ran from 1989 from 1997, but I can tell you this: He’s good people. And while the brother of a more famous actor might not always merit a mention in the pages of Pajiba — we’re somewhat selective about whom we devote obituaries — I feel I have to mention Jerry Van Dyke, who died yesterday of heart failure.
Why? Because in the 1990s, around the time I left my hometown, Jerry Van Dyke bought the only movie theater in my city. This was a big deal. It was the site of my first kiss. It was the site of the most traumatic theater experience of my life. Jerry Van Dyke — the dumb guy from Coach whose brother was in Mary Poppins — bought it and turned it into a live theater. That was not nothing at the time, where live theater space was scarce. Ultimately, he bought up an entire city block of our small town, and I’m still not sure why. He didn’t live in Benton, Arkansas. He didn’t hail from Benton. His wife was from Hot Spring, Arkansas, a town about half an hour’s drive away. And yet, he bought a block in the downtown of my hometown, and he turned one store into the Jerry Van Dyke soda shop, a 50’s like joint that sold milkshakes and had a somewhat creepy statue of Jerry Van Dyke in it.
It was something of a weird mystery to me, and it remains so to this day. Why buy a city block in a nothing town in the middle of Arkansas? That act, in and of itself, ultimately revitalized the our downtown area, which had basically been rendered a ghost town by the arrival of a WalMart Supercenter out by the freeway. Was it an investment? Vanity? Or simply a kind gesture?
I don’t know, but what I do know is that a few years after buying our movie theater, remodeling it and turning it into a live theater, the man gave it away. He gave it to a local group of actors who performed at the remodeled theater. I don’t know why. He just called, and two days later, the theater belonged to the Royal Players. He just handed over a theater after he’d already rebuilt it.
If that, and the fact that he was on Coach, is all I ever know about Jerry Van Dyke, it’s enough to understand that he was good people. When good people pass away, they should be recognized for their good deeds. So thanks, Jerry Van Dyke. The statute of you in the soda shop was kinda creepy, but hell if you weren’t a really decent guy who did a lot of good with what money you had.