Dean Jones, beloved star of nearly a dozen Disney films, died Tuesday of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 84.
Jones’ appearances in lighthearted films like That Darn Cat! and The Love Bug won audiences’ hearts, but offscreen, the actor struggled with depression and “miserable moods.” During one dark episode in 1973, he fell on his knees and asked God to take away his depression, his wife recalled.
“He told me that in an instant it was gone, and he felt peace and joy flood into his heart,” Lory Patrick told People magazine in 1991.
Jones was outspoken about his faith and had a passion for persecuted Christians. In 1998, he founded the Christian Rescue Committee (now known as the Christian Rescue Fund) to help believers around the world. The first group he helped were jailed in Saudi Arabia after being caught holding a prayer meeting, Jones told ChristianCinema.com in 2009.
“We sent an advocate, and with the help of two U.S. senators, three weeks later the Christians were on a plane leaving Saudi,” he said. “I’ve been working with the committee ever since to help … people who are seriously persecuted for their faith escape to safer living conditions.”
The Disney star’s acting career began in the 1950s with roles in several forgettable films. In 1962, he landed a role in the television comedy series Ensign O’Toole, which brought him to the attention of Walt Disney. The family film company founder called him in 1965 and offered him the lead role in That Darn Cat! He went on to star in 10 more Disney films.
“I see something in them that is pure form. Just entertainment. No preaching,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re always looking for social significance, but maybe people just like to be entertained.”
He continued to act into his 70s, including in Christian films. His last leading role came in Mandie and the Secret Tunnel, an indie adaptation of a popular children’s book.
Jones said after he became a Christian, he evaluated every script he had a chance to work on through the lens of his faith.
“Will the audience leave the theater anxious and angry, or will they see a way, as a result of what’s in the film, to attack the problems they face? That’s the bottom line for me,” he told ChristianCinema.com. “In other words, does the movie produce good or evil?”
Jones leaves behind Patrick, his wife of 42 years, three children, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
— by Leigh Jones | WNS
The Associated Press contributed to this report.