Veteran TV director John Rich died this morning from heart failure after a brief illness. He was 86. For almost five decades, from the 1950s into the 1990s, Rich worked on such iconic series as All In The Family, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, The Twilight Zone and Murphy Brown. He directed 41 episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Then he helmed the pilot for All in the Family and spent four years directing and producing the classic comedy (as well as working on spinoffs Maude, The Jeffersons, and Good Times), for which he won 3 Emmys and 2 DGA Awards.

Rich started his broadcast career while at University of Michigan in the 1940s, working as a radio sports announcer, earning one dollar an hour. “My early inspiration for getting into television was the need to eat on a regular basis,” he once said in an interview. He entered the fledgling TV industry, starting off as stage manager before segueing into directing with a stint on a live variety show, which led to a long career as a director of a comedy and drama TV series. Rich also is known for his long service to the Directors Guild. According to the DGA, he joined the Screen Directors Guild in 1953 and served as a board member for more than 50 years, guiding the organization toward its 1960 merger with the Radio and Television Directors Guild, and playing a pivotal role in establishing the pension and health plans. Here is a statement DGA President Taylor Hackford  just issued on the passing of John Rich:

“We are deeply saddened to learn today of the passing of John Rich.  A legendary figure in the history of TV comedy, John tirelessly served our Guild for nearly six decades.  He directed some of the most beloved classics of all time and his skills as a television director were unsurpassed, but no matter how busy and successful his career was, John always made time for the DGA.

“No one who ever sat in a meeting with John will ever forget his stories about the early days of the Guild or his lovably salty sense of humor.  John began making an impact in the Guild from the very first time he attended a meeting of what was then the Screen Directors Guild. At that meeting, he had the chutzpah to point out that of the illustrious members – including Capra, Stevens, Wyler and Hitchcock – who had convened to elect a board of directors, none had ever worked in television. And the very next day – John got a call that they had appointed him – this brash young television wunderkind, as an alternate member of the new board. And once he began serving the Guild, he never stopped, with more than 50 years on the National Board and Western Directors Council, and even after his retirement continued serving as the Chairman of the Directors Guild Foundation.

“But what we’ll remember the most is his dedication to defending the economic and creative rights of our members, pushing for the merger of the Screen Directors Guild and Radio & Television Directors Guild, establishing the Pension Plan and serving on almost every Negotiations Committee since 1960. We’ll always be grateful to have had the benefit of his formidable presence, his outspoken nature and his years of experience that came from leading and supporting the Guild in some of its most important moments.  Our hearts go out to his wife Pat and his family at this difficult time.”