RIP Captain Stubing: Gavin MacLeod Dies, Mourned by Cruise

Actor Gavin MacLeod, aka “Captain Stubing” of the 1977-1986 hit TV series, “The Love Boat,” died Saturday at the age of 90 in Rancho Mirage, CA. The show put modern cruising “on the map” by showcasing it as a vacation choice for people from all walks of life, not simply for the rich and famous.

For the past 35 years, MacLeod had served as Princess Cruises’ celebrity brand ambassador. He’d cheerfully appeared in his “Love Boat” captain’s uniform at the cruise line’s ship christenings/events and rode on a Rose Bowl parade float along with his fellow cast members.

MacLeod was known for being gracious, kind and genuine with the line’s employees, crew, guests and fans. He was beloved by many in the travel/cruise industry. Here’s a look at his life, work and reaction to his death. 

Travel/Cruise Industry Reaction

In a statement on Saturday, Princess Cruises said: “It is with sadness felt to the depth of the oceans that we mourn the passing of actor Gavin MacLeod, our beloved global ambassador, dearest friend and treasured member of the Princess Cruises family for more than 35 years.

“From his 10 seasons staring as Captain Merrill Stubing on ABC Television Network‘s hit show ‘The Love Boat’ (1977 to 1986) and for more than three decades following the show’s final season, Gavin enthusiastically shared his passion about the joys and adventures of exploring the world while cruising. He always reminded us that—like the popular TV series—’cruising gives people something to dream about.'”

MacCleod, who celebrated his 90th birthday in February, became Princess Cruises’ global ambassador in 1986, appearing in an array of advertising campaigns, along with numerous public and media appearances for the company. His role for Princess continued until his passing.

The cruise line’s statement continued: “All of us at Princess Cruises and our loyal guests around the world whom, to this day, remain avid fans of Gavin’s, send our heartfelt condolences to his wife Patricia (Patti) and his entire family who have lost a loving husband, father and grandfather. We offer our sincerest gratitude to them for sharing Gavin with all of us for so many years.”

From one trade leader’s perspective, “I was truly devastated to hear the news about Gavin’s passing,” said Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer and co-owner, Cruise Planners. “He was one of the reasons I fell in love with cruising.”

Garcia continued: “When I was growing up, my family and I watched ‘The Love Boat’ together without missing an episode. When ringtones for our smartphones first came out, guess which one I had for years? Yes, ‘The Love Boat.’ He has been such a gentleman and pioneer for the cruise industry.”

Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion, posted this from the trade organization on her personal Facebook page: “The Nexion Travel Group family is sad to hear of the passing of Gavin MacLeod. Many knew him as Murray from ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show,’ but for us in travel, he was Captain Merrill Stubing of ‘The Love Boat.'”

The Nexion statement continued: “Gavin and the cast of ‘The Love Boat’ helped launch cruising to the mainstream public and helped travelers fall in love with cruising. His impact to our industry and kindness to all who have met him, is something we will treasure greatly. Our hearts go out to his family and our friends at Princess Cruises, where his impact will last for generations.”

Charles Sylvia, vice president, industry and trade relations, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), told Travel Agent: “Gavin MacLeod was the very first cruise influencer. He and the entire cast of ‘The Love Boat’ brought cruising into people’s homes, every Saturday night, for more than a decade.

“Gavin’s contribution to the popularity of cruise travel is immeasurable, and his passing deeply saddened all of us who knew and loved him. The entire cruise industry sends its heartfelt condolences to Patti and his family.”

Karen Tetherow Candy, Princess Cruises’ public relations manager from 2004 to 2016, said on her Facebook page: “To know Gavin MacLeod was to love him. I remember meeting him for the first time in 2004, right after I joined Princess Cruises and the PR team took him to Texas for a media event to launch the new ‘Movies Under the Stars‘ feature onboard Grand Princess.

“He made me feel like I knew him my whole life because he loved sharing his life with me and everyone around him. He treasured making people smile and how couldn’t you when he flashed you his playful grin? Knowing Gavin has been one of the greatest joys of my career and life.” 

Love Boat History 

After the 1977 pilot show for ‘The Love Boat,’ shot onboard the line’s original Sun Princess in Mexico, Douglas Cramer, a television producer known for the hit show, “Love American Style,” teamed up with another top television producer, Aaron Spelling, and the rest is history. “The Love Boat” achieved phenomenal success for a decade as one of the highest-rated prime-time television shows in the country. Princess Cruises soon became a household name and continues to be known as the “Love Boat” cruise line to this day.

The original floating stars of the show were Pacific Princess and Island Princess, are both now gone (demolished at a breaking yard). That said, the show was also filmed on many other Princess ships in exotic destinations around the globe. The TV series was a catalyst for introducing American viewers to such destinations and sites as Sydney, Australia and its Opera House, the Great Wall of China, the Acropolis in Athens, Greece and others. Occasional “Love Boat” television specials have been filmed since the show stopped production.

MacLeod and Whelan //
Photo by Princess Cruises

MacLeod was the longest celebrity spokesperson in any brand’s partnership history, serving from 1986 to 2021. Actress Jill Whelan, who played Captain Stubing’s daughter Vicki on the series, continues to serve as Princess’ Celebrations Ambassador and spokesperson for the cruise line. 

Over the weekend, Whelan said on her Facebook page: “Gavin was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known in my whole life. When I first started working with him on ‘The Love Boat,’ he welcomed me as though I was one of his own kids and that never changed. That’s just who he was.”

Whelan continued: “He was gregarious and interesting and welcoming and loving and one of the most positive people that I’ve ever encountered in my life. And that’s the way he led his life. He was a custodian of love, and that’s what I think of every time I think of him. He was more than a TV dad for me. Gavin was like my real dad and his kids were gracious enough to share him with me. And for that, I’ll be ever grateful.”

In 1997, a decade after the show ended its original run, all six original “Love Boat” cast members—MacLeod as Captain Stubing; Fred Grandy as yeoman purser Burl “Gopher” Smith; Ted Lange as Isaac “The Bartender” Washington; Bernie Kopell as Adam “Doc” Bricker; Lauren Tewes as Julie McCoy, the cruise director; and Whelan as Vicki—reunited for the first time in more than a decade for the official naming ceremony and christening of Dawn Princess in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

In 1998, “The Love Boat” popularity was revived with a new version of the show introduced by Spelling Television. “Love Boat: The Next Wave,” which ran for two seasons on the UPN network, was also set on a Princess ship, the line’s new Sun Princess. It featured a new cast of characters, including Robert Urich as Captain Jim Kennedy.

To mark MacLeod’s 20th anniversary serving as Princess Cruises brand ambassador, he was honored by CLIA and inducted into its 2006 “Hall of Fame.” 

MacLeod released his autobiography, “This is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith & Life” in 2013. Part of his book promotional tour included appearances on Princess cruise ships, where he shared his life story with guests and signed copies of his best-selling autobiography.

Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line posted this tribute to MacLeod on her Facebook page:

“Remembering Gavin MacLeod, a kind, caring gentleman! I was so excited to meet him having watched him on both 70’s TV shows, ‘Love Boat’ and ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ This photo [was] from Australia 2013. He was in his 80s, full of energy and had just published his book. Always gracious with his fans. RIP Captain Stubing.”

In 2014, MacLeod was also awarded a star on the Palm Springs (CA) Walk of Stars.

The original “Love Boat” cast joined together in 2014 to kick off the 50th anniversary of Princess Cruises by officially naming and christening the new Regal Princess cruise ship in a star-studded event also featuring 25 guest stars from the show, including Charo, Florence Henderson, Marion Ross, Doris Roberts, Diane Ladd, Loni Anderson and Jamie Farr. The cast continued to celebrate the golden anniversary of Princess in 2015, as they boarded a modern Princess “cruise ship float” and participated in the famed Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA, on New Year’s Day.

In May 2018, the six cast members of “The Love Boat” and Princess Cruises received an honorary star plaque on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in recognition of their contributions to the history of television and support of the preservation of the Walk of Fame.

Candy Steinman, travel advisor and franchise owner, Dream Vacations in Fort Myers, FL said she loved MacLeod, having met him at several Princess functions. “I think ‘The Love Boat’ series really started the cruise industry,” Steinman noted, and she’d love to see a new “Love Boat” series. “This would be a great time for that with the return to sail.”

MacLeod’s favorite way to vacation was, not surprisingly, by cruise ship, and he embarked on many voyages with his family and friends. His favorite cruise destination was Tahiti. 

MacLeod’s Life and Career 

Knowing he wanted to be an actor since the age of 4, MacLeod made his television debut in 1957 on “The Walter Winchell File” at the age of 26. In December 1961, he landed a guest role on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” his first time working with Mary Tyler Moore. Then in 1962, he became a series regular on “McHale’s Navy,” playing Joseph Haines; he appeared more than 70 times on that show between 1962 and 1964. 

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” debuted on CBS in September 1970. MacLeod starred as Murray Slaughter alongside Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White, Ed Asner, Ted Knight and Valerie Harper. MacLeod appeared on all 168 episodes of the series and received two Golden Globe nominations for his role.

In 1977, “The Love Boat” premiered and during its run through 1986, MacLeod earned three Golden Globe nominations. He worked with such guest stars as Florence Henderson, Marion Ross, Michael J. Fox, Tom Hanks, Loni Anderson and Andy Warhol.

Throughout his career, he also had acting appearances in “Burke’s Law,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” “Hotel,” “Ironsides,” “Murder She Wrote,” “Run For Your Life,” “That ’70s Show,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Big Valley,” “To Catch a Thief” and “The King of Queens.” He also appeared in many movies and Broadway plays. 

MacLeod also contributed to his community and charitable causes throughout his career. He’s survived by his wife Patricia (Patti) MacLeod, seven children and 11 grandchildren.

A Personal Not

This reporter met MacLeod at least three times in covering Princess Cruises events. From my personal perspective, he was incredibly gracious, kind, caring and seemed genuinely interested in meeting people.

Gavin MacLeod and Susan J. Young, Travel Agent’s cruise editor, onboard Princess Cruises during a christening event. 

He eagerly put his arm around people and posed over and over again. Always sporting a smile, he was a sweet man who will be deeply missed—not just for helping put cruising on the map as a vacation choice, but for his simple acts of kindness that are too rare these days.

RIP Gavin MacLeod. We will miss you.

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