Who Was Dick Van Dyke's Ex Wife, Margie Willett?

The marriage of beloved actor and comedian Dick Van Dyke and his first wife Margie Willett was far from typical, starting with their wedding. The young couple took their vows live on a radio broadcast while around 15 million listeners hung on to their every word. "We were too broke to get married, but a radio producer offered to pick up the tab and send us on honeymoon if we got hitched on his show," Van Dyke told The Guardian in 2016. He'd known Willett from growing up in Danville, Illinois, and although they struggled financially during the early years of their marriage, she stuck by him as his star slowly began to rise. But with fame came problems.

Willett hated Hollywood, preferring the quiet Arizona desert where the couple bought a home in the 1960s, according to the Daily Mail. She focused on raising their four children. Both Van Dyke and Margie sought treatment in the 1970s — him for alcoholism and her for prescription drug dependency. The couple divorced in 1984 after a long separation. The breakup of their marriage came after Van Dyke revealed he had been having a long-term extramarital affair. Willett lived a quiet life after the divorce and died of pancreatic cancer in 2008.

The early years

Dick Van Dyke began dating Margie Willett in 1945 when he was 20, and although they were in love, Van Dyke went to Los Angeles to pursue show business as a comedy duo called the Merry Mutes with Phil Erickson while Willett remained in Danville. "She regularly asked when I was going to send for her," he recalled in "My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business." "We were engaged, so her hints became less subtle as time passed." After their unusual wedding ceremony, the couple settled into life in Los Angeles, where Willett miscarried twins. After she recovered, they hit the road, with Erikson taking the Merry Mutes from Reno to Miami to Atlanta.

Soon Van Dyke began making appearances on television and then Broadway before breaking into the movies, per "Celebrating the Achievements of the Older Generation: Living Life to the Full." Willett, who was "earthy and artistic," wore her hair short and didn't use makeup, preferred to stay out of the limelight as her husband's Hollywood career took off with his hit sitcom "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and such films as "Mary Poppins" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," per The Guardian. As their family grew to four children, the couple's paths began to diverge.

Living separate lives

On Dick Van Dyke and Margie Willett's 18th wedding anniversary, the couple renewed their vows, according to The Tribune. But Van Dyke's alcoholism had started to unravel the marriage. The day in 1972 when he got out of rehab, Willett went in for her dependence on the sedative Librium, per the Daily Mail. Afterward, Willett retreated to their ranch in Arizona. She and the family had unearthed an ancient Hohokam Native American village site on the property. In 1982, she published a book about the discovery, per "Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging."

In 1975, Van Dyke began a long-term affair with a bit actor named Michelle Triola, his agent's secretary. After "writhing in guilt" over the affair, Van Dyke told Willett. "After many emotional but productive talks, Margie and I agreed to do what we had been doing for years: live our separate lives, or more accurately, live our lives separately," he recalled in 2016. "But it wasn't until 1981 that we made it permanent." They divorced in 1984. Willett contracted pancreatic cancer in 2007 and died the next year. "I was deeply affected," Van Dyke said. "Even though we were long divorced, with her death I lost a part of myself."