Gavin MacLeod: My role as a Christian is more important than 'Love Boat,' 'Mary Tyler Moore' success

Gavin MacLeod has been a steady presence on television for over half a century. He created two iconic characters, Murray Slaughter, on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and Captain Stubing, on “The Love Boat.” Now the 82-year-old actor recalls those roles and many more in “This Is Your Captain Speaking,” a thoroughly enjoyable read. But the role that means the most to him is that of a Christian activist. He spoke to FOX411 about it all.

FOX411: You know what we loved about your book? What an unabashed fan you were of so many stars.
Gavin MacLeod: It's the absolute truth. I grew up in a little town and I went to the movies and you're a little boy and you see these people on the screen and years later they're at your captain's table, these huge stars!

FOX411: You lost your hair very young.
MacLeod: It allowed me to have a wonderful career. Jessica Tandy always said as an actor you take what is your liability and it'll become your asset. I was doing the DesiLu shows and I'd do five different characters in two days and one of the reasons was because I was bald. The fact that I got a second-hand hair piece really changed everything.

FOX411: You wanted to take a break from television after “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
MacLeod: At the end of the series I said to my wife Patti, “Look that's enough TV for a while. Let's put another act together and go out on the road.”

… My agent called and said, “Aaron Spelling wants you to do this show, 'The Love Boat.'” I said, “Have you read it?” He said, “Yeah I read it. I think it sucks. Do you want to read it?” I said, “Sure, I mean come on, it's Aaron Spelling, he's no fool.” I read it and I thought, “Nothing like this has ever been on TV before.” I would be the captain, the number one guy on the show, that's nice and of the three stories, one was very, very funny, one was funny and one was very poignant.

Every critic said that we were going to sink like the Titanic. We wound up being number one for I don't know how long and being in 90 countries.

FOX411: You write of drinking heavily during your first troubled marriage. Were you an alcoholic or just really unhappy?
MacLeod: I think the second. The unhappiness led me to be more unhappy and then drink even more.

FOX411: You were married to your second wife Patti for seven years, split for three and then re-united. Why did you divorce the first time?
MacLeod: It's because I put my work before her. “The Love Boat” became such a giant job. I was all over the place promoting it. I was traveling all over and I just felt, this sounds very egomaniacal, but I felt that I didn't have time for her anymore.

FOX411: How did you reconcile?
MacLeod: My mother developed a cyst on the left side of her brain. She was in her 70s and there was going to be an operation and the doctors didn't know if she'd be a vegetable. The morning of the operation I woke up in my big beautiful bedroom in Beverly Hills, thinking the bigger the house the happier you'd be, you can see where I was, and I just prayed to Jesus that if he would give my mother more time I'd turn my life over to him.

Right after that something told me to call Patti. I didn't even have her number. I got it from my secretary. It was September 15, 1984. I called and she picked up. I said, “This is Gavin, can we be friends?” She said, “That's all I ever wanted,” and then I'm asking to see her. She invited me over for dinner. The following Monday I get down there. I knocked on the door and she opens it and says, “I'm sorry Gavin your dinner's cold. It's been waiting for three years.” She is something else!

I came in and she said, “I have something for you,” and she brings me in a Bible with my name on it… So I said, “So you're a born again Christian, What does that mean?” and she explained everything. I said, “Patti, that's what I want!” That was the beginning of me becoming who I am today, a different person.

FOX411: How did it change your marriage?
MacLeod: The marriage is so solidified. We have what you call a three fold marriage. You make a triangle with your hands and you can see Jesus is at the top and we're below. That's pretty solid. You're a threefold covenant. There's three people in this marriage. We've been through some difficult things physically but we're still here, stronger than ever and living for the Lord.

FOX411: From the book it seems you're most proud of a little Christian movie that you did a couple of years ago called “Jonathan Sperry.”
MacLeod: No doubt about it. This little movie that cost less than one million dollars and is changing lives and to be a part of it at my age gives me a true purpose in life. Isn't that wonderful?