Dana Elcar

Dana Elcar

VENTURA, Calif. ---Dana Elcar, the round-faced actor who made a career of playing knowledgeable or domineering authority figures both on TV and in films, and whose real-life struggle with blindness was written into his role on the series "MacGyver," died here June 6 of complications from pneumonia. He was 77. MSTies will remember him as anti-hippie businessman George Woodruff in episode 614- SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL.

Born Ibson Dana Elcar, to Danish immigrants, he grew up on a farm in Ferndale, Mich. An abortive attempt to run away from home at age 13 led to his first interest in acting, a series of misadventures led to him spending the night in a movie theater that was playing "Citizen Kane."

"That kind of sparked him to be an actor," Elcar's son later recalled. "He watched it four or five times in one night."

He served in the Navy, then attended the University of Michigan, where he was among the founding members of the Ann Arbor Theatre, though later he was caught appearing in off-campus professional productions and was dismissed from the school.

Elcar's television career spanned 50 years, beginning on daytime dramas in the 1950s and moving to a long list of guest starring roles on series from "Gunsmoke" to "Mannix," from "Hill Street Blues" to "ER." He also appeared in more than 60 films, including "Catch-22," "The Sting," "2010," "All of Me" and "The Learning Tree."

But he is perhaps best known from ABC's "MacGyver" where, from 1985 to 1992, he played Peter Thornton, best friend and boss of the crime-fighting title character. Four seasons into playing the role, Elcar learned he was going blind from glaucoma, and informed the show's production company, expecting to be let go. Instead, they wrote his blindness into the series, telling him, "The fact that you are losing your eyesight does not mean you have forgotten how to act."

The stage was his first love: he co-founded the L.A. Actors' Theatre in the mid-1970s, which later became the Los Angeles Theatre Center. After his blindness, he returned to the stage; performing often at the Santa Paula Theatre Center, which he also co-founded.

"You could barely tell he couldn't see," his son said. "I heard someone in the front row say, 'I thought he was blind.'"

Elcar married and divorced three times. In addition to his son, he is survived by three daughters, a stepdaughter, a sister, a half-sister, a granddaughter and longtime companion Thelma M. Garcia.