Bill Daily, ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ and ‘The Bob Newhart Show’ actor, dead at 91

Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television

Bill Daily as Major Robert Healey on I Dream of Jeannie (1969)

Bill Daily, known for playing Maj. Roger Healey on the classic sitcom, “I Dream of Jeannie” and Bob Newhart’s neighbor, divorced airline navigator Howard Borden, on CBS’ “The Bob Newhart Show,” died Tuesday in Santa Fe, N.M., his family said. He was 91.

Daily died of natural causes, his son, J. Patrick Daily, told The Hollywood Reporter.

He was born William Edward Daily Jr. on August 30, 1927 in Des Moines, Iowa. Daily’s father died when Bill was young, and he was raised by his mother and other family members.

In 1939, Daily and his family moved from Des Moines, Iowa to Chicago, where he spent the rest of his youth.

Upon leaving Lane Technical High School, Daily left home to try to carve out a living as a musician, playing bass with jazz bands in numerous clubs across the Midwest. He was drafted into the United States Army and served in the Korean War with an artillery unit, later being transferred to an entertainment unit.

It was in his traveling-musician days that Daily began performing stand-up and gradually began playing some of the bigger clubs in the country. After graduating from the Goodman Theatre School, Daily worked for the NBC television station in Chicago, WMAQ, as an announcer and floor manager. He eventually became a staff director. Daily stated that preparing for a Chicago-area Emmy Award telecast, he asked a young Bob Newhart to come up with a routine about press agents that resulted in the routine “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue”.

Bill Daily, Bob Newhart on “The Bob Newhart Show” 1972

Television Roles

Daily appeared in guest spots on My Mother the Car, The Farmer’s Daughter, and Bewitched. Veteran sitcom writer Sidney Sheldon liked Daily’s work and hired him for a supporting role on I Dream of Jeannie.

In 1972, two years after Jeannie was canceled, Daily was back on television in another aviator’s uniform, as Howard Borden in The Bob Newhart Show. Borden, a commercial airline navigator who later became a co-pilot, lived across the hall from Bob Newhart’s Bob Hartley character, and would frequently pop into the Hartleys’ apartment to borrow things, mooch a meal, or have the Hartleys take care of his son when he had custody of him.

Debbie Reynolds and Bill Daily star together on Aloha Paradise Wednesday’s at 9 PM on ABC starting February 25, 1981

For the two years that followed The Bob Newhart Show, Daily returned to stand-up, but in 1980, after years of making a living as a second banana, Daily was offered his own show. Called Small & Frye, the show featured Daily as a neurotic doctor; it lasted only three months before being canceled. Daily, a lifelong lover of magic, made three syndicated specials introducing young magicians called Bill Daily’s Hocus-Pocus Gang which aired in 1982 and 1983. In 1988, Daily tried his hand again at starring roles, this time as another doctor on the sitcom Starting From Scratch.

It fared slightly better than Frye, and was canceled after one season. Daily’s most notable post-Newhart role was another supporting character, that of Larry the psychiatrist on the cult favorite ALF (1986); Jack Riley appeared as an unnamed patient, clearly reprising Elliot Carlin from The Bob Newhart Show. ALF claimed to have learned all he knew about psychology from watching the earlier series.

During the 1980s–1990s, Daily reprised his I Dream of Jeannie role of Roger Healey in two made-for-TV reunion movies: I Dream of Jeannie… Fifteen Years Later (1985) and I Still Dream of Jeannie (1991).

Bill Daily in 1997. Photo: Lansing State Journal

In 1990, he reunited with Bob Newhart as a new, overbearing neighbor in the Newhart episode “Good Neighbor Sam”. Also in 1991, he reprised the role of Howard Borden in The Bob Newhart Show: 19th Anniversary, which aired in February of that year. In 1997, he was a guest star on Caroline in the City.

In 1987, he was named director of the New Mexico Film Commission.

Daily also occasionally served as a panelist on the 1970s CBS game show Match Game. After Richard Dawson’s departure, Daily was a semi-regular for the final three years of the show’s CBS and syndicated run.

Personal life and death

Bill Daily at the 2011 Supanova Expo in Australia Photo by: Eva Rinaldi

Daily married his first wife, Patricia Anderson, in 1949. In 1976, the couple divorced. Daily had two adopted children, a son, Patrick, and a daughter, Kimberley. In 1980 he married Vivian Sanchez, with whom he traveled on the road, performing Lover’s Leap for two years, and with whom he had one child. He and Sanchez later divorced.

In 1993, he married Becky Daily. The couple remained together until her death in 2010. Although mostly retired, he still did some live comedy and an occasional television guest appearance. From 2006 to February 2009, he was a guest host on radio station KBQI, 107.9, in Albuquerque, on Thursday mornings.

Daily died on September 4, 2018 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His death was announced by his family three days later.

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