When we mourn Bob Saget and Betty White, we’re also mourning a younger version of ourselves.
Shortly before his death in 2016, Alan Thicke, who played Jason Seaver, the dad on the long-running sitcom Growing Pains, told me how often people would come up to him to talk about how his work on the show had affected their lives.
“I like that there’s a whole generation of people that still come up to me and say, ‘You raised me. You’re my dad, I grew up on you.’ I’ll say, ‘Well, I hope you turned out all right,’” Thicke said.
Thicke seemed alternately amused by this impulse on the part of those who approached him and a bit humbled by it. When you’re a viewer of a TV show that runs long enough, you really do feel like you build relationships with those characters. I was sad when Thicke died, because Growing Pains was my favorite show when I was a kid. I don’t think I would have described Thicke as “my dad,” but I did feel like I had built a relationship with him, no matter how inaccurate that statement is.
There is an intimacy to the death of the TV star that I’m not sure quite exists with the deaths of other artists. When a musician or a movie star dies, we might be gutted, sure, but our popular culture places those figures up on a pedestal in ways that make them ever so slightly unapproachable. Bruce Springsteen is my favorite living rock star; I’d never think to consider him my dad.Bob D’Amico/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images Bob Saget played the perfect TV dad on Full House.
It’s just different with TV. Especially in the era when the main four broadcast networks were inviting the same people into our homes, week after week, it wasn’t all that hard for viewers to find a kind of comfort in our favorite shows. We knew...