While driving in my rented Nissan Sentra in San Anselmo, California on June 27, the theme to “My Three Sons” came on the news. At first I was delighted to hear it, until the announcer shared the reason for it: Don Grady, the actor who played “Robbie Douglas” on “My Three Sons,” was dead from cancer. To my surprise, I started crying, and had to pull the car over and compose myself.
If you don’t know the name, you’re probably not someone who grew up in the 60′s. Don Grady was an actor and musician who was best known for “My Three Sons.” Robbie Douglas had two brothers, Mike and Chip, and when Mike was written out when the actor Tim Considine left the show, Robbie became the older brother, and neighbor Ernie was adopted by Steve Douglas, the widowed father of the boys.
This death hit me hard, for this reason: Don has been my friend on Facebook for the past year. Don’s TV brothers, Stanley and Barry Livingston (Chip and Ernie, respectively) are also my Facebook friends. Unlike Don, I had actually met the Livingston brothers some years ago when a mutual friend brought me to a house party at Barry’s home in Hollywood. Oddly, being able to say I had all three My Three Sons as Facebook friends was even more thrilling than being able to say that I had met two of them.
Don was a Facebook friend in the best possible way. He completely engaged with people, whether they were his personal friends or fans, even if those fans had no conception of him outside of “Robbie Douglas.” He made personal comments, answered mail, and was thankful for all the love that came his way. When he talked about missing his father, I asked him what lessons his father taught him. “Great question, Andrew!” He went on to talk about those lessons, and it was clear he relished his family. Don was a musician, and was happy to talk about his music, and generously offered free downloads of several of his songs. He was a very good musician, in fact, and I let him know it. He was self-deprecating about his music, and I reassured him that as a fellow musician, I know what I’m talking about when I hear talent. He was thankful for my comments. This engaging, combined with the fact that I grew up watching the three TV brothers (and for years in reruns), I felt like I had lost a brother.
As it turns out, most of the world had no idea Don was even sick. He never talked about his illness. When people would congratulate him on his youthful good looks in his most recent pictures from 2009, he would be thankful and credit clean living and a good family life. I knew for some time that in fact, he was quite ill, through my friend who was close to Stanley Livingston. It says a lot about his grace and strength that he never turned his illness into a pity pot, and as long as he could, maintained his connection to the many people who didn’t know him, but felt he was like a brother.