In 1964’s musical Mary Poppins, a cheerfully soot-covered Dick Van Dyke glides across a London set as Bert the chimney sweep singing “Chim Chim Cher-ee” with pure glee. Later, he’s barely recognizable in the role of crusty banker Mr. Dawes Sr. “I had to go to Walt [Disney] and beg him to let me do it. So, he made me do a screen test,” recalls Dick of playing the surprise second role in the film. “I got the part — and I didn’t even charge him extra! It was such fun.”

With a remarkable career that has spanned seven decades, Dick, 97, has a lot to look back on. “I didn’t know I was going to be an entertainer. I thought I was going to starve,” says the Illinois-reared star, who began performing in high school. His service during WWII as an Army radio announcer eventually led to Broadway, television’s The Dick Van Dyke Show and starring roles in two of the world’s most beloved family-friendly musicals, Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. “I’m getting a lot of letters from kids who have just discovered those old movies,” he says. “I know that I’ll be remembered more for Bert than anything. I’m happy about it.”

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Of course, his career didn’t end with Mary Poppins. Dick’s later work included more film roles — including a couple of turns as villains — a return to series television with Diagnosis: Murder, plus guest starring spots and several books, including 2015’s Keep Moving. “I’m the kind of person who gets out of the right side of the bed,” explains Dick. “I’m full of ideas and make a list of the things I want to do.”

In 1961, Dick won a Tony for his featured role in Broadway’s original cast of Bye Bye Birdie. He and the other members of the show — including Chita Rivera and Paul Lynde — appeared together on an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show. It’s where America got a first look at Dick’s graceful footwork as he performed “Put On a Happy Face.”

In less than a year, Dick would become the star of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Conceived by Carl Reiner and costarring Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam, the series was a ratings winner that earned four Emmys for Outstanding Comedy and three for its lead actor. “It was five terrific years with a very talented, sweet, wonderful man,” Rose Marie gushed to Closer in 2017. “I know it sounds like a cliché, but we were like a family. Honest to God.”

Dick remembers it as “the happiest, most creative five years of my life.” He loved that Carl allowed them to improvise and occasionally sing and dance. “My favorite show was the one where we all got to perform,” he tells Closer.

Over the course of the show, Dick developed a crush on Mary Tyler Moore, who played his wife, Laura. “She had never done comedy before, but we got to where we could read each other’s mind,” he recalls.

During a break from the show, Dick teamed up with Julie Andrews to make Mary Poppins. “I just lucked out with the leading ladies,” admits Dick, who calls Julie “talented and easy to get along with.” It was a pretty great way to spend the summer. “As I told Julie, ‘If I’m not enjoying myself, I stink. If I’m having fun, I’m pretty good,’” says Dick. “We just enjoyed ourselves.”

In 1993, Dick returned to television with Diagnosis: Murder, a medical crime drama that became a family affair. “My son Barry has been on from the beginning,” said Dick in 2000. Grandson Shane also played a medical student. “At one point or another, I’ve had all four of [Barry’s] kids on the show,” said the actor, who has enjoyed a diverse career but has always been proudest of his family-friendly projects. “I think we’re kind of an alternate choice for people who have had it with sex and violence,” he said of Diagnosis: Murder. “You can watch it with the kids and feel safe about it.”

This February, Dick made his way to another show with mass appeal. He calls competing in disguise as Gnome on The Masked Singer “the weirdest thing” he has ever done in his long career. “I think some people thought I was dead,” Dick jokes.

Although he was voted out first, Dick exited the competition with a smile singing Mary Poppins’ “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” It brought the judges to tears. “A lot of the audience started to sing with us, too,” says Dick. “It was great, great fun to bring back those memories for people.”