Friday, June 22, 2001
Culver City, Calif. Carroll O'Connor, whose portrayal of irascible bigot Archie Bunker on "All in the Family" helped make the groundbreaking TV comedy part of the American dialogue on race and politics, died of a heart attack Thursday. He was 76.
O'Connor collapsed at his home and was taken to Brotman Medical Center, publicist Frank Tobin said. He said O'Connor died with his wife of nearly 50 years, Nancy, by his side.
The actor had diabetes and had undergone coronary artery bypass surgery in 1989.
Personal tragedy darkened O'Connor's later years. His only child, Hugh, a co-star with his father on the TV series "In The Heat of The Night," shot himself in a drug-related suicide in 1995.
A native of New York, O'Connor had been working for two decades on stage and in TV and movie supporting parts when he was tapped by producer Norman Lear to play a blue-collar worker from New York's borough of Queens with the gift of gab and a big chip on his shoulder.
On Jan. 12, 1971, Archie began spouting off against minorities, liberals and his long-haired son-in-law (whom he called "Meathead") and kept at it for 13 years. O'Connor didn't flinch at playing an unlikeable character and deftly brought Archie's intolerance to feisty comic life.
The actor also managed to give Archie a vulnerability that allowed him to be seen as a beleaguered soul, bound by his unthinking prejudices and buffeted by the changes sweeping Vietnam War-era America.
Further softening the character was his love for wife Edith (Jean Stapleton), lovingly known as "Dingbat," and their daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers), and his grudging affection for Meathead Mike (Rob Reiner).
"All in the Family," adapted from the British series "Till Death Do Us Part," shattered the sitcom mold that had produced decades of superficial and bland series featuring, invariably, a wise and kindly paternal figure. The sitcom got off to a rocky start. Many found it unsettling and offensive, and tuned it out. Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint called the show's bigotry "dangerous because it's disarming."
Eventually, however, viewers came to embrace Archie and the series as a comedy and a source of debate. It ranked No. 1 for five years, was top-rated for much of its run and gave birth to two spin-offs, "Maude" and "The Jeffersons."
O'Connor moved from "All in the Family" (1971-79) to "Archie Bunker's Place" (1979-83), which was based in a bar owned by Archie rather than in the Bunker household.
"Lonely Are the Brave" and "Cleopatra" (both 1963), "Hawaii" (1966) and "Point Blank" (1967) were among the movies in which he appeared. Then "All in the Family" made him a star and, eventually, a four-time Emmy winner.