06/24/2015 12:01PM

Actor, racing enthusiast Van Patten dies at 86

Benoit & Associates
Dick Van Patten at Santa Anita in 2008.

Actor Dick Van Patten, well known for his role on the television series “Eight is Enough” in the late 1970s and early 1980s and a fixture in the clubhouses of Southern California racetracks, died on Tuesday after an illness.

Van Patten died in Santa Monica, Calif., at the age of 86 from complications of diabetes.

A veteran of stage and film, Van Patten spent many afternoons in recent years at the races, where he was often a visitor at Hollywood Park. Van Patten seldom missed a day of racing. He could be found sitting in the front row of the turf club, frequently alongside comedian and director Mel Brooks, with whom Van Patten had worked on films such as “Spaceballs” and “Robin Hood, Men in Tights.”

Born in New York, Van Patten began acting at the age of 7 on Broadway. His role on “Eight is Enough” made him a household name. Aside from acting, Van Patten was successful in business. In the 1980s, he founded Natural Balance Pet Foods, which was sold to Del Monte in 2013.

Van Patten owned racehorses with trainer Herbert Bacorn. They had a winner on the closing day at Hollywood Park on Dec. 22, 2013, when Tanquerray won a starter allowance. Bacorn trained for Van Patten for more than a decade.

“From a 1 to 10, he was a 30,” Bacorn said on Wednesday. “He loved the races. A couple of years ago, he had a stroke. They told him, ‘Go home and relax.’ Do you know where he went? He went to the races. He enjoyed horse racing. He enjoyed watching them run. He’d never miss the races.”