Born in Baltimore, John Astin was the son of Margaret Linnie and Dr. Allen V. Astin, director of the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology).
As a youth, Astin had a remarkable facility for mathematics. According to lore, he completed an entire semester’s worth of study in one evening. He studied math at Johns Hopkins, but switched his major after appearing in the senior play.
After doing graduate work in dramatics at University of Minnesota, Astin moved to New York, where he worked as a janitor in theatres until landing a role in an off-broadway production of Threepenny Opera.
Astin’s breakthrough was a small but memorable role as a dance chaperone in West Side Story (1961). On his first sitcom, the blue-collar I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster, Astin played a married carpenter with a wacky bachelor co-worker played by Marty Ingels. His most memorable role is Gomez Addams, the passionate patriarch of The Addams Family, which ran from 1964 to 1966.
Astin was married to Patty Duke from 1972 to 1985, and adopted Sean Astin, also an actor.
Astin made regular appearances on the sitcoms Operation Petticoat and Night Court, and portrayed Gomez Addams’ father in the short-lived late-90s version of The Addams Family. He has also guest-starred in dozens of other sitcoms and dramas over the years, from Hazel to Maverick to Diff’rent Strokes to The Hughleys.
He also has toured the one-man play Edgar Allan Poe: Once Upon a Midnight. With a reputation as something of a bohemian, Astin often toured the country in stage productions between sitcoms and other projects, usually living in his van rather than spending money on hotels.
Since 2001, Astin, has taught theatre at Johns Hopkins. He lives in Baltimore with his third wife, Valerie Ann Sandobal.