(RNS) To many, he is Murray from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” or Captain Stubing from “The Love Boat.” But Gavin MacLeod — whose acting career is bookended with a spiritual TV program and a Christian movie — says his new calling is “ambassador for Christ.”
The 82-year-old actor is out with a new book, “This Is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith & Life.”
He writes about how his star-studded career was interspersed with a faith walk that began as a Roman Catholic, detoured through the New Age movement in the 1970s, and ended up firmly planted in the Pentecostal faith. That path included depression, alcohol and divorce, but he credits God’s forgiveness with carrying him through.
“God had a plan from the beginning, like he has for everyone, and he got me started with the first job I ever had on television, ‘Lamp Unto My Feet,’’’ said MacLeod, who considered his bald pate a blessing, too. “And then we wind up eventually being born again, giving our lives to Christ.”
He said his acting career was capped with the 2009 Christian movie, “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry,” in which he played an old man who teaches Bible lessons to boys in his neighborhood.
MacLeod said family ties, and especially his second wife, Patti, are the reason for his focus on faith. They married in 1974 but divorced while he was starring on “The Love Boat.” In 1984, when his mother had brain surgery, he promised Jesus that if his mother survived, he would live for him.
“Right after I did that, something told me to call Patti, who I hadn’t talked to for three years,” said MacLeod, whose mother survived for almost two more decades.
Turns out, while he had left his second marriage behind, his wife still had hope. She had helped form a support group called LADIES, or “Life After Divorce Is Eventually Sane,” and had prayed that her ex-husband would come back to her. Their reunion was capped by his baptism at Church on the Way, a Pentecostal congregation in the San Fernando Valley.
His spiritual rebirth did not go unnoticed by “The Love Boat” cast.
“They didn’t know what happened to me because I was the leader in off-color jokes and things like that,” he said. “I went to work after this incredible experience of me calling Patti … and one of our regulars came up and started telling me the joke. I said, ‘Really, forgive me. I don’t want to hear that.’’’
In 1985, they had their second wedding at a “Born Again Marriages” conference, with singer Pat Boone and his wife Shirley serving as best man and matron of honor.
MacLeod said it’s wrong to think of Hollywood as being “godless,” but he has felt “believers” are outnumbered. He relates in his book how he led Ted Knight, his ailing former co-star on “Mary Tyler Moore,” to Christ, asking him to repeat a prayer of commitment.
In an interview, MacLeod said he still has the tract, or small prayer card, he used for “one of the most meaningful experiences of my life, bringing my older best friend to Jesus.’’
After “The Love Boat” ended in 1986, Paul Crouch of Trinity Broadcasting Network asked the remarried MacLeods to co-host “Back on Course,’’ a program that encouraged couples with marital problems.
“We still get letters and communications from people from all over the world whose lives have been affected,” said MacLeod of the TBN show that aired for 17 years.
While he has relished his experiences with Christian entertainment, he thinks secular TV has shifted from the “supreme” writing for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which ended in 1977.
“I think some of the comedy has gone down to tastelessness and they have no respect for the audience,” said MacLeod, who was not a fan of the recently concluded “Breaking Bad.”
The Southern Californian has retired from acting but recently appeared in an “old school safety” video for a New Zealand airline with actress Betty White.
MacLeod continues to serve as ambassador for Princess Cruises, a post he has held for almost 30 years. But that has become a place for him to sometimes witness to his faith. Recently, he was asked to speak at a nondenominational Sunday service aboard a Mediterranean cruise.
“I got up there to tell people what God has done in my life,” said MacLeod. “I’ll go anyplace to give my testimony.”
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