Tom Bosley, the actor who played Howard Cunningham in US TV hit sitcom Happy Days, has died at the age of 83.

Tom, whose long acting career was highlighted by his hugely popular role as the understanding father on television’s nostalgic, top-rated 1970s comedy series, died of heart failure at a hospital near his Palm Springs home.

His agent, Sheryl Abrams, said he was also battling lung cancer.

Happy Days, a light-hearted series about teenage life in the 1950s, debuted in 1974 and ran for 11 seasons. When Tom was first offered his role, he turned it down.

“After re-reading the pilot script,” he recalled in a 1986 interview, “I changed my mind because of a scene between Howard Cunningham and Richie. The father/son situation was written so movingly, I fell in love with the project.”

Propelled by America’s nostalgia for the simple pleasures of the 1950s, Happy Days became US television’s top-rated series by its third season.

Tom went on to a recurring role in Murder, She Wrote as Sheriff Amos Tucker, who was often outsmarted by Angela Lansbury’s mystery writer, Jessica Fletcher.

Watch Tom Bosley in Happy Days: