March 17, 1997 12:00 PM

ALTHOUGH THEATER WAS HIS FIRST love, Broadway-trained actor David Doyle never quibbled with the gig that fed him. “Charlie’s Angels ain’t Hamlet,” he said about the TV jigglethon that made him famous 21 years ago, “but it sure is entertaining.”

His bountifully tressed and scantily dressed costars, who included Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson, Cheryl Ladd and Jaclyn Smith, came and went. But Doyle, who died of a heart attack on Feb. 26 in Encino, Calif., at age 67, played John Bosley, the avuncular go-between for the gal gumshoes and their unseen titular boss, for the entire series run from 1976 to 1981. As the ABC show became a pop-culture phenom—at its height, 20 million households tuned in—Doyle, as Charlie’s only leading male character, was both envied and adored. “I found myself hugging him a lot,” costar Jackson says of Doyle. “He was so quick to laugh and to smile.”

That joie de vivre was hard won. The son of a Lincoln, Neb., lawyer, Doyle began performing in community theater at age 10. In 1950 he moved to New York City and later made his Broadway debut in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Tragedy struck in 1968 when his first wife, Rachael, died from an accidental staircase fall, leaving Doyle to care for the couple’s daughter Leah, now 35 and a mother of two living on Long Island, N.Y. After marrying Anne Nathan, his castmate in a Lincoln Center revival of South Pacific, Doyle moved his family to Los Angeles in 1972. Nathan, now 56, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that has left her nearly blind. Yet even in tough times, Doyle, known to a new generation as the voice of Grandpa on Nickelodeon’s Rugrats cartoon, maintained his good humor. “This,” he said of himself, “is one happy man.”

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