Van Dyke honored with SAG Lifetime Achievement Award

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Dick Van Dyke stands next to his lifetime achievement statue from the SAG Awards.

On Sunday, legendary song-and-dance man and Malibu local Dick Van Dyke won recognition for his nearly 70 years of performances when the Screen Actors Guild honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Van Dyke becomes the 49th recipient of the award, bestowed “for outstanding achievement in fostering the finest ideals of the acting profession.” He joins such luminaries as Gregory Peck, James Stewart and prior co-workers of his own such as Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore. 

“I’m looking at the greatest generation of actors in the history of acting,” Van Dyke, 87, said in his acceptance speech. “If I can refer to you as my peers, then I’m a happy man.” 

Van Dyke’s career began nearly 70 years ago in radio. He performed in local television variety shows till he was tapped in 1959 for his Broadway debut in “The Girls Against the Boys.” Shortly thereafter, he made a name for himself in Gower Champion’s “Bye, Bye Birdie,” for which he said he auditioned knowing almost nothing about dancing. He won the Tony Award that year for Best Featured Actor and went on to act in the film. 

But most know Van Dyke for his years as Rob Petrie on Carl Reiner’s classic early television sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Rafts of Emmy Awards came his way, and reams of new television series and specials followed featuring his work. 

In 1974, the world saw Van Dyke in a different light, with his Emmy-nominated role in “The Morning After,” about an alcoholic businessman. After the release of the made-for-TV movie, Van Dyke admitted he had himself recently overcome a 25-year-long drinking problem. 

However, his greatest success— by his own estimation—came with Walt Disney’s 1964 movie “Mary Poppins.” The movie musical, about a magical British nanny and her special, chimney sweep admirer, raked in a load of Oscars and set the bar for musical film classics. “Oh, I think my best work by far was ‘Mary Poppins,’” Van Dyke said Tuesday in an interview with The Malibu Times. “It was just so much fun.” 

Van Dyke’s film career has continued ever since, with time out for projects dear to his heart, like the a cappella group The Vantastix, with whom he has been singing since 2000. Recent projects included rapping on a children’s album with Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer and Point Dume resident Chad Smith, and appearing with his brother, Jerry Van Dyke, in a special benefit run of Neil Simon’s comedy “The Sunshine Boys” at the Malibu Stage Theatre. 

How does an 87-year-old man bound up stairs, as Van Dyke did at the SAG Awards, looking as fresh, handsome and engaged as he did Sunday night? 

“I had the right parents,” Van Dyke said. While the SAG members voted him in, he quipped, “I think it’s only because I’ve outlived the competition.” 

In his acceptance speech, Van Dyke was quick to credit the actors before him with setting a new standard of performance, and lauded his assembled family, including new wife Arlene Silver, as being the most “non-toxic” people you could find. 

A longtime Malibu local, Van Dyke was given The Malibu Times 2010 Citizens of the Year Dolphin Award for his contributions to local charities and the community. Long a lover of Halloween, the actor hosts a haunted house at his Serra Retreat property that is open to the public on the holiday every October. 

Van Dyke added he hopes to be returning to the Malibu Stage Company Theatre again soon with a new project. 

In his acceptance speech, Van Dyke said, “You know, I’ve been knocking around this business for 70 years and I still haven’t quite figured out what it is I do.” 

When asked if he had figured out what it is his audience wants from him, Van Dyke paused. 

“I guess I just need to be whatever they want me to be,” he said.