Carroll O’Connor is an icon of American television. He starred on All in the Family and its spinoff, Archie Bunker’s Place, from 1971 to 1983, then later starred on TV crime drama In the Heat of the Night from 1988 to 1995. Between those two roles, he earned 11 Golden Globe Award nominations, winning one, and nine Emmy Award Nominations, winning five.
All in the Family itself is one of the most honored American television shows of all time — it is the first sitcom where all four leads won Emmys. So it’s no wonder that ABC has chosen it as one of the shows it stages for Live in Front of a Studio Audience, where current stars of film and TV perform episodes of classic sitcoms live on stage. Ahead of the second Live in Front of a Studio Audience special, here’s what you need to know about when and how Carroll O’Connor passed away.
1. O’Connor Died From Complications With Diabetes
On June 21, 2001, O’Connor collapsed at his home in Culver City, California, after suffering a heart attack. He was rushed to nearby Brotman Medical Center with his wife, Nancy, by his side where he passed away about an hour after being admitted, according to the Associated Press. He was 76 years old.
O’Connor previously underwent coronary bypass surgery in 1989 and then saw his health decline over the next decade due to diabetes. In 1998, he had to have a blockage in a heart artery cleared via surgery to reduce his risk of having a stroke, then in 1999, he had to have surgery to correct adhesions from a previous gall bladder operation.
In 2000, O’Connor had surgery to improve circulation in his left leg, during which he had to have the fourth toe on that foot amputated due to circulation problems brought on by diabetes. According to E! Online, on the way out of the hospital, he joked around with TV crews, showing them his bandaged foot and joking that he carries around a plastic bottle to urinate in.
2. O’Connor’s Funeral Was a Star-Studded Event
Hundreds of family members, friends, celebrities and fans turned out for O’Connor’s funeral, a Catholic Mass held at St. Paul of the Apostle Church in Westwood, California, a suburb of Los Angeles.
Anne Meara, who co-starred with O’Connor on Archie Bunker’s Place, attended the funeral with her husband, Jerry Stiller. The two of them had been friends with O’Connor and his wife since the 1950s. She told the Hollywood Reporter at the time that it was only “appropriate” that O’Connor received a standing ovation as his casket was carried out of the church.
“I thought it was appropriate,” said the actress. “When someone dies, it’s a loss; when an actor dies, you lose a crowd.”
Her husband added, “I remember him as a very decent, warm actor, a generous performer who was there for you.”
Actors Larry Hagman (Dallas), Martin Sheen (The West Wing) and Denise Nicholas (In the Heat of the Night) read Bible passages at the funeral. Also in attendance were his All in the Family co-stars Sally Struthers, Rob Reiner, and Danielle Brisebois, and the show’s producer Norman Lear, plus fellow actors Don Rickles, Dom DeLuise, and Carl Reiner, and politicians Richard Riordan, the then-mayor of Los Angeles, and Jerry Brown, the former governor of California and then-mayor of Oakland.
“It was nice to go up there and see Carroll had a full house,” Hagman told CNN after the service. “He would have enjoyed that. He was a nice guy, and a wonderful friend for 42 years.”
3. But His Onscreen Wife Couldn’t Make It to the Funeral
Jean Stapleton, who won four Emmys and two Golden Globes playing O’Connor’s on-screen wife, Edith, on All in the Family, was not able to attend O’Connor’s funeral due to a stage commitment.
A spokesman for the actress told the New York Post at the time that Stapleton could not get out of her schedule in Houston, where she was performing in a production of “The Carpet Bagger’s Children.”
She did have nothing but fond memories of him, though, telling the Associated Press that he was one of the best actors she ever worked with.
“He was one of the most intelligent and generous people I have ever worked with,” Stapleton said. “When I have the occasion to catch a rerun, I am reminded of his marvelous talent and humor.”
The feeling was mutual. O’Connor wrote in his 1998 autobiography that Stapleton’s Edith was a great foil for his Archie.
“The benign, compassionate presence she developed made my egregious churl bearable … Her idea of Edith Bunker was not only original and perfectly suited to the American audience, but very comical and emotionally moving,” wrote O’Connor.
4. O’Connor Was Preceded in Death by His Son
O’Connor and his wife, Nancy, had one child, Hugh O’Connor, an actor best known for playing the role of Lt. Lonnie Jamison on In the Heat of the Night. Hugh was named after O’Connor’s brother Hugh, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1961.
The younger Hugh struggled with addiction his whole life. At the age of 16, he underwent chemotherapy and two surgeries to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He became addicted to drugs and was in and out of rehab several times. Then in 1995, he called his father and told him he was going to end his life. O’Connor called the police and rushed to his son’s house, but he was too late. Hugh was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Prior to Hugh’s death, O’Connor had already been investigating a man named Harry Perzigian, who had been supplying Hugh with drugs. About a week before Hugh’s death, O’Connor asked the Los Angeles Police to arrest Perzigian, citing evidence that he had gathered via a private investigator. But Perzigian was not arrested until O’Connor named him in being involved in his son’s death; Perzigian was arrested for drug possession and furnishing cocaine and sentenced to a year in jail, a $1000 fine, 200 hours of community service, and three years of probation.
Perzigian later sued O’Connor for slander related to the comments O’Connor made about Perzigian following Hugh’s death, but O’Connor was found not liable. O’Connor then successfully lobbied the state of California to pass legislation that allows family members of an addict or a person injured by a drug dealer’s actions to sue for reimbursement for medical treatment and rehabilitation costs. The law is known as the Hugh O’Connor Memorial Law.
5. O’Connor’s Wife Nancy Died in 2014
Thirteen years after losing her husband, Nancy O’Connor died in 2014 at the age of 84; she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for 10 years, her brother John Fields told Montana’s Missoulian newspaper.
O’Connor and Nancy met at the University of Montana in the late 1940s when they were both working on university productions of “Life With Father” and “Winterset.” They went to Ireland together in 1951 when O’Connor was finishing his studies and then they were married in Dublin later that year. When they moved back to Missoula in 1956, Nancy developed the first comprehensive fine arts curriculum for Missoula’s elementary schools.
Nancy was also an actor, but her brother told the Missoulian at the time of her death that she always had a hard time finding roles because she was so tall at 6’0″.
The second Live in Front of a Studio Audience, which is staging more episodes of All in the Family and Good Times, airs Wednesday, December 18, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.
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