Touched by Magic
03/09/1992 at 01:00 AM EST
HIS MOTHER-IN-LAW REFERRED TO him disdainfully as "Durwood." To his comely witch of a wife, he was the ever malleable "DARE-in." By any name, Dick York, the actor behind harried ad exec Darrin Stephens in the delightful sitcom Bewitched (1964-72), was TV's definitive mere mortal. The first of two Darrins (Dick Sargent took over the role in 1969), York played flustered and helpless as wife (Elizabeth Montgomery) and mother-in-law (Agnes Moorehead) magically rearranged his comfortable suburban reality. "York was Darrin," says Bewitched director Richard Michaels. "He knew instinctively how to create a character constantly surprised at what was going on around him."
But beyond Bewitched's buffoonery, York, who died of emphysema on Feb. 20 at age 63, pursued a different kind of magic. For the past several years, confined by an oxygen machine to his modest two-bedroom cottage in Rockford, Mich., York used his fame—and his phone—to help the homeless, arranging for the shipment of food and clothing to relief organizations around the U.S.
Following a simple Christian ceremony at a funeral home in Rockford, attended by 140 friends and two of York's five children, Joan York, 60, Dick's wife of 40 years, recalled his charitable motto: "He'd say, 'Just look at your fellow man and you'll do what's right.' "
The actor's career began in Chicago, where he was performing in radio dramas by age 15. He went on to Broadway (Tea and Sympathy, Bus Stop) and played the accused teacher in the film version of Inherit the Wind (1960). But on the set of the 1959 western They Came to Cordura, York injured his back. Filming Bewitched, he was in constant pain. He eventually became addicted to painkillers and left the show in 1969.
York quit pain pills cold turkey in 1971, but as his spine continued to degenerate, he became too incapacitated to work in show business again. For a time he and Joan ran an apartment house. Later they depended on welfare. By the time the couple moved to Michigan in the mid-'80s, York had emphysema, the result of years of heavy smoking. "I'm fortunate I still have my voice," he told PEOPLE in 1989. That voice is silent now, but the spirit that animated it will not be forgotten. Says York's son Matthew, 31: "He was not only my father, he was my hero."