A long career. William Daniels had been in the film and TV industry for decades when he began portraying the beloved teacher Mr. Feeny on the coming-of-age sitcom Boy Meets World in 1993.
“Mr. Feeny’s appeal was due to the fact that he was a friend, a mentor and an advisor all rolled into one,” Daniels wrote in his March 2017 memoir There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT & Many Others.
The New York native added that more than a decade after the series finale, he was still receiving mail “from (now-grown) fans who tell me how important the show and the role I played were to them in their formative years.”
The effect that Feeny had on audiences is something that Daniels never saw coming; on the contrary, he initially turned down the role, fearing that it might be offensive to educators.
“I asked for a meeting [with showrunner Michael Jacobs] because I turned it down and he wanted to know why,” the Captain Nice alum recalled during a July 2022 appearance on “Pod Meets World,” which is hosted by fellow Boy Meets World alums Danielle Fishel, Rider Strong and Will Friedle. “I said ‘Well, that’s a funny name and I don’t want to make fun of teachers. I respect them and they’re unpaid and all that.’ Then he told me what my role was based on, which was a mentor of his when he was in high school.”
He continued: “I was afraid [Feeny] would be the butt of the joke [but then] I realized the plot would be written with respect.”
Before his time on the hit ABC series, Daniels was a Broadway actor, appearing in productions including Life With Father, 1776, A Thousand Clowns, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, and A Little Night Music. He made his film debut in 1963, when he played school principal Mr. Calkins in the docudrama Ladybug Ladybug. He went on to appear in movies including The Graduate (1967), Two for the Road (1967) and the film version of 1776 (1972).
On the small screen, the Adams Chronicles actor portrayed Dr. Mark Craig on the medical drama St. Elsewhere from 1982 to 1988, earning two Emmy awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for the role. Daniels and his real real-life wife, Bonnie Bartlett, played a married couple on the series.
The twosome — who met when they were both studying acting at Northwestern University — tied the knot in 1951. Bartlett gave birth to their first child, son William Jr., in 1961, but the newborn died just 24 hours later. The duo went on to adopt sons Michael and Robert in 1964 and 1966, respectively.
During a December 2020 interview with Forbes, Bartlett shared that her husband’s parenting prowess — as well as his playfulness — are among her favorite things about him.
“He makes me laugh. His sense of humor and his ability every day to find something funny is really good for me because I’m very intense. That and being a great father. He’s a great father,” she told the outlet.
Sign up for Us Weekly's free, daily newsletter and never miss breaking news or exclusive stories about your favorite celebrities, TV shows and more!
Scroll through for a look at Daniels’ life over the years: