R.I.P. Max Wright, who played TV dad Willie Tanner on ALF
Image: AP Photo / Nick Ut
Max Wright did not make a name for himself on television until the 1980s, but he was hardly a newcomer to the acting profession. The California native started his career on the stage. He made his Broadway debut in 1968 in the boxing drama The Great White Hope, which won both the Tony Award for Best Play and a Pulitzer in 1969. So he perhaps did not seem like the most obvious candidate to portray the "father" of a smart-alec furry alien.
But it was Wright's perpetually exasperated persona, the polar opposite of Gordon Shumway from Planet Melmac, that made ALF work as a comedy. Wright was the straight man.
It was a type that he would portray frequently on sitcoms, though ALF is the most well-known. In early seasons of Friends, Wright was the manager of the Central Perk coffeehouse. Long before that, he popped up a couple times on WKRP in Cincinnati and landed a regular role on the cult sci-fi series Misfits of Science, which also happened to feature future-Friends star Courteney Cox.
After ALF, Wright returned to the theater. In 1998, he would earn a Tony nomination himself for his performance in Ivanov.
On June 26, 2019, Wright passed away from cancer, as first reported by TMZ. He was 75 years old.