William Daniels' Celebrated Career and Life in Photos

The Emmy award-winning actor has portrayed some of the most iconic characters in television history, including Dr. Mark Craig, K.I.T.T. and Mr. Feeny

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William Daniels was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1927. His father Charles was a bricklayer and his mother Irene was a telephone operator. He had two sisters, Jacqueline and Carol.

From a young age, Irene pushed Daniels and his sisters to dance, sing and perform, which led him to the notable career he is known for today. The longtime actor has appeared on television, in theater and movies, including St. Elsewhere, Knight Rider, The Graduate and Boy Meets World.

One of his earliest roles was playing Albert Amundson in the 1965 dramedy A Thousand Clowns, which was directed by Fred Coe and starred Jason Robards, Barbara Harris and Martin Balsam.

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Paul W. Bailey/NBCU Photo Bank

Williams was tapped to play chemist Carter Nash in Captain Nice, a short-lived comedy created by Buck Henry in 1967. According to the star, Henry had created the role of Nash with Williams in mind, but could not remember his name until he passed a theater with an A Thousand Clowns movie poster with his face on it. Playing the sort-of superhero and connecting with Henry ultimately landed Williams his most famous movie role as Mr. Braddock in The Graduate.

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Buck Henry wrote the screenplay for The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. Williams was barely 10 years older than Hoffman, who was an unknown in Hollywood at the time, when he played his father, Mr. Braddock. The film went on to earn six nominations at the 1968 Oscars and one win for Best Director.

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Daniels has said that his role as John Adams in the Broadway musical 1776 was his most demanding. "I had nine songs and two were solos. I never left the stage. I became the driving force in a successful Broadway musical, something I never thought possible," he recalled on his website of his experience. The star also played John Adams in the film version of the musical in 1972 and The Adams Chronicles TV miniseries in 1976.

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Daniels played Police Lt. Jack Matteo in 1974's Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the cult-classic crime series that only lasted one season but had two TV movie spinoffs: The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler.

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On The Nancy Walker Show, Daniels appeared as Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Kitteridge in 1976 before the show got cancelled after 12 episodes.

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CBS via Getty

Blind Ambition (1979), a four-part series dramatizing the Watergate scandal based on the memoir of former White House counsel John Dean, starred Martin Sheen as Dean, Rip Torn as President Richard Nixon and Daniels as G. Gordon Liddy, former FBI agent and one of the Watergate Seven.

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American Broadcasting Companies via Getty

In 1980, Daniels also appeared on the ABC series B.A.D. Cats on the 'life and death of a beauty queen' episode.

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Denzel Washington Throwbacks

The star joined St. Elsewhere in 1982 and played Dr. Mark Craig for six years. He earned two Emmys for outstanding lead actor in a drama series on the show, which originally only offered him occasional appearances of Dr. Craig.

"When I was offered the role, the scripts were excellent but there was only an occasional appearance by Dr. Craig," Daniels said of his famous character. "'Billy, when the writers see what you do with it they will write for you,' producer Bruce Paltrow told me."

"He was right," he added.

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Daniels' real-life wife Bonnie Bartlett played his TV wife, Ellen Craig, on the series.

"Bonnie remembers me sitting out at the pool memorizing my lines," Daniels recalled. "I had to have them down pat, because so much of it was medical jargon and I had to make the speech seem like second nature while, at the same time, performing heart surgery."

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Bartlett also won two Emmys for outstanding supporting actress in a drama during her time on the medical dramedy. Here, the couple are seen posing proudly with their awards at the 1986 Emmys.

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Daniels and Bartlett met while they were both studying at Northwestern University and wed in 1951. They share two sons, Michael and Robert.

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Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

While filming St. Elsewhere, Daniels dedicated his voice to K.I.T.T. in 1982's Knight Rider. Ahead of recording, he was asked to make his voice sound robotic for the role but instead, he decided to ignore the suggestions and used his own voice.

"I was amazed when NBC bought the series and they asked me to be the car," he said of his time on the show. "But it was a nice extra paycheck that would take little time from my main job at St. Elsewhere. I took no billing and figured no one would know. I was wrong."

He continued: "Thirty years later people are still recognizing my voice as that of the Trans Am on Knight Rider."

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The cast of Boy Meets World. getty

In 1993, Daniels signed on to play his most famous TV role, Mr. Feeny in Boy Meets World. However, it almost didn't happen. In his memoir There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, & Many Others, Daniels explained why he almost left the show and what finally convinced him to stay.

"At a meeting with the show's author and executive producer, Michael Jacobs, already an established playwright and sitcom creator, as well as movie producer, I told him I didn't want to play a high school teacher who's made to look foolish for the sake of some cheap laughs," Daniels writes in the book. "I had too much respect for the underpaid, under-appreciated teachers of this country to portray one of them a fool."

After the cast's first table read, Daniels was unhappy with his storyline and went to Jacob's office to quit the show. It was only until Jacobs reworked the script when Daniels decided to get back on board.

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Touchstone Television/Everett Collection

Fans first met Mr. Feeny as a sixth grade teacher, who eventually taught high school, became principal and then a professor in college to his beloved students Corey Mathews (Ben Savage), Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel) and Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong).

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william daniels boy meets world

To this day, Daniels reveals in his memoir, he still gets fan mail "from (now-grown) fans who tell me how important the show and the role I played were to them in their formative years."

"Mr. Feeny turned out to be rather popular," Daniels told PEOPLE. He still frequently gets recognized by passerby on the sidewalk, too. "People across the street [say], 'Hi Mr. Feeny!' " he said with a laugh.

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Source: Uriah Justus/Instagram

Daniels went on to star in the seven-season sitcom from 1993-2000 and recently appeared in five episodes of the series' spin-off, Girl Meets World.

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In 2017, Daniels released his memoir There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT & Many Others. In the book, he talks about suffering abuse as a child actor, and not realizing the extent to his trauma until he had started seeing a psychologist while writing the book.

Years later, Daniels was able to sit down with both his parents to talk to them about the pain of the past before they passed away. And although he was forced to perform as a child and was robbed of what he considers a healthy childhood, there is nothing else that Daniels would rather have done with his life than be on a stage or in front of the camera.

"My mother was really the ultimate stage mother, and my father did nothing to stop her. … In retrospect my parents were right. At least when it came to me," he writes, and later adds, "Clearly acting is what I wanted to do and what I've always wanted to do in spite of the countless times I said no and tried to push it all away."

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Bonnie Bartlett and William Daniels
Bonnie Bartlett and William Daniels. David Livingston/Getty Images

On June 30, 2021, Daniels and Barlett celebrated their 70-year anniversary. The two revealed their favorite thing about each other in a December 2021 interview with Forbes.

"I think our relationship is based on mutual respect and I think she is smarter than me, better actor than me, and so I just hang on, you know, and try to get along," said Daniels, who posted a clip from the interview on Instagram.

With a laugh, Bartlett chimed in, "He doesn't mean that at all!"

Added Daniels with a smile, "I'm an actor! I'm making it up as I go along."

Barlett noted that her husband brings laughter into their home every day.

"His humor, his sense of humor and his ability during every day to find something funny is really good for me, because I'm very intense," she said.

Bartlett also praised his parenting skills, sharing, "So I honestly would say that and being a great father – he's a great father."

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