Dick Van Dyke Got His High School Diploma Later Than You Might Think

In 1944, Dick Van Dyke was a typical high school senior preparing for graduation at Danville High School in Illinois, per Country Living. According to his school newspaper at the time, he was active in the Dramatic Club, had served on the student council, and acted as emcee for a few school soirées. But in February of that year, he abruptly dropped out of high school in the final year of World War II to join the U.S. Army Air Forces (as it was known then, per Britannica), and didn't receive his diploma until years later.

Van Dyke's penchant for performing continued while in military service. Hearing that most of his fellow recruits during basic training would be put in the role of tail gunner — one of the deadliest appointments you could be placed in — Van Dyke scrambled for a less dangerous opportunity. He found it in performing for troops. "I tap-danced and sang right on the spot," Van Dyke said in one interview, per War History Online. "I got into USO shows [...] and entertaining [troops]. So cowardice got me into showbiz." He acted as a radio announcer in the Air Forces, and even performed in service theater productions, according to Britannica.

Van Dyke got his diploma 60 years late

After Dick Van Dyke's stint in the military ended, he worked in live entertainment for awhile, first in nightclubs and then eventually, after moving to New York City, landing the lead role in the first run of the Broadway musical "Bye Bye Birdie," according to The Washington Post. Van Dyke would win a Tony for his performance, but even more fortuitously, the television writer Carl Reiner came to see him perform, resulting in Van Dyke getting cast as the lead in "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (in an earlier incarnation, it was titled "Head of the Family," per Random Content).

That, of course, led Van Dyke to television stardom and movie roles. There was no reason he needed to get his high school diploma at that point. It was sixty years later when he returned to Danville High School to officially graduate, as well as for the high school's 2004 production of "Bye Bye Birdie," according to Country Living. Today he is 96 years old, living in Malibu, and apparently still quite healthy.