Blessed with an appealing vulnerability, Sally Struthers impressed in a "Five Easy Pieces" (1970) cameo but achieved stardom as Gloria Stivic, the daughter of Archie and Edith Bunker (Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton) and wife of Mike Stivic (Rob Reiner) on the groundbreaking "All in the Family" (CBS, 1971-79). One of the most acclaimed, controversial and popular television series of all time, the show tackled hot-button issues head-on, and as Gloria, Struthers reflected the real-life struggles and successes of younger women in a changing society. For her appealing performance, she won two Emmys and after leaving the series in 1978, eventually earned her own spin-off, "Gloria" (CBS, 1982-83). She lensed a juicy supporting role in "The Getaway" (1972) but found more success in made-for-TV films and using her distinctively girlish pipes for voiceover work, including as the Flintstones' daughter on "The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show" (CBS, 1971-72), Baloo's boss Becky on "TaleSpin" (Disney Channel, 1990, syndicated, 1990-91) and dino-daughter Charlene Sinclair on the live-action puppet series "Dinosaurs" (ABC, 1991-94). Lampooned for her weight gain and tearfully earnest delivery as the TV spokeswoman for the Christian Children's Fund, Struthers frequently toured in productions of "Grease" and "Annie" and recurred on "Still Standing" (CBS, 2002-06) and "Gilmore Girls" (The WB, 2000-06; The CW, 2006-07). Although her professional success was eventually overshadowed by easy, sometimes cruel punchlines, Sally Struthers built an impressively lengthy career and took a highly visible role in raising enormous amounts of money for impoverished children.
Born July 28, 1948 in Portland, OR, Sally Ann Struthers moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting after high school, training at the Pasadena Playhouse. Her blonde beauty, wholesome appearance and endearing vulnerability helped make her a natural for screen work, and she turned in an affecting cameo as an emotionally damaged young woman who connects with Jack Nicholson's dissatisfied drifter in "Five Easy Pieces" (1970). She was spotted while dancing on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" (CBS, 1967-69) by Norman Lear and Rob Reiner - the latter a writer for the show - and was subsequently cast in her most famous role, that of Gloria Stivic, daughter of Archie and Edith Bunker and wife to Mike "Meathead" Stivic (Reiner) on the groundbreaking "All in the Family" (CBS, 1971-79).
Good-hearted but insecure, fragile but strong, Struthers's Gloria was an enormously appealing character who frequently stood up to her husband and father to defend her liberal viewpoints as she searched for her own path in life. Although "Family" was off to a slow Nielsen start, it quickly became a ratings and critical powerhouse, shining a light on many of the prejudices, social issues and societal problems of the era in a brutally honest manner never before seen on television. In fact, Gloria became an important inspiration to many younger women who saw their own struggles reflected in hers. For her work on the show, Struthers won two Best Supporting Actress Emmy Awards, as well as earning three additional Emmy and four Golden Globe nominations.
Around the same time, she scored a juicy supporting turn as a hard-edged veterinarian's wife who proves a willing accomplice to criminals in the Steve McQueen/Ali McGraw thriller "The Getaway" (1972), but focused more on television than film work. One of the most memorable of Struthers' talents was her distinctively tremulous voice which landed her an early-career role of voicing the teenage daughter of Wilma and Fred on the animated "The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show" (CBS, 1971-72) for a year. She soon became one of the first queens of made-for-TV movies, lensing one a year from 1974 through the end of the decade, including "Aloha Means Good-bye" (CBS, 1974), "Hey, I'm Alive!" (ABC, 1975), "The Great Houdini" (ABC, 1976), "Intimate Strangers" (ABC, 1977), "My Husband is Missing" (NBC, 1978), " And Your Name Is Jonah" (CBS, 1979) and the celebrated "A Gun in the House" (CBS, 1981), written by Richard Levinson and William Link.
Although she left "All in the Family" in 1978 over a salary dispute, she found it difficult to escape typecasting with her iconic role, and she returned to the fold to recur on "Archie Bunker's Place" (CBS, 1979-1983), earning her own short-lived spin-off, "Gloria" (CBS, 1982-83). Struthers landed in a longer-running project when she replaced Rita Moreno on the second TV adaptation of "Nine to Five" (ABC, 1982-83; syndicated, 1986-88), and continued to line up guest spots on everything from the era's high-profile remake of "Alice in Wonderland" (CBS, 1985) as the Tiger Lily, as well as on "Charles in Charge" (CBS, 1984-85; syndicated, 1987-1990) to "Sister Kate" (NBC, 1989-1990) and "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996).
She would go on to lend her instantly recognizable pipes to roles on "The Charmkins" (NBC, 1984-85), "The GLO Friends Save Christmas" (CBS, 1985), "Yo Yogi!" (NBC, 1991) and Disney's "The Jungle Book"-inspired "TaleSpin" (Disney Channel, 1990, syndicated, 1990-91), where she voiced Baloo's boss, Becky. Generations of children of "All in the Family" viewers would recognize Struthers' voice even if they did not know her name, and she earned credits on "Tiny Toon Adventures" (CBS, 1990; syndicated, 1990-92; Fox, 1992-95) and "The Wild Thornberrys" (Nickelodeon, 1998-2004) as well as her highest-profile voice role, Charlene Sinclair, the mall-loving daughter on the prehistoric live-action puppet series "Dinosaurs" (ABC, 1991-94). Apart from voice work, Struthers also made appearances with an arc on "General Hospital" (ABC, 1963- ) and guest spots on "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" (ABC, 1996-2000; The WB, 2000-03) and "The Division" (Lifetime, 2001-04).
Despite her lengthy acting career and multiple awards, in later years, Struthers became a figure of parody over the years, due in great part to two spokeswoman roles she took on, launching two ubiquitous television ads: one for International Correspondence Schools (later known as Penn Foster Career School) and one for the Christian Children's Fund (later known as ChildFund International). While the former saw Struthers shilling for courses in gun repair among other trades and would have seemed more conducive for mockery, it was the latter that made Struthers a prominent target to lampoon, even though the ads themselves were very serious, showing videos of starving third-world children in distress. Due in part to her girlish voice, tearful delivery and her personal weight gain, Struthers's participation in the ads was mercilessly satirized, most vividly - and arguably, misogynistically - on "In Living Color" (Fox, 1990-94) and two "South Park" (Comedy Central, 1997- ) episodes.
The bulk of her late career work, however, came onstage, with Struthers appearing opposite Rita Moreno in the 1985 distaff version of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" at the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A. and the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway. She also frequently toured as the daffy principal in "Grease" and as the evil Miss Hannigan in "Annie," and landed a long-running recurring role as the manipulative mother of Bill (Mark Addy) on "Still Standing" (CBS, 2002-06). Perhaps the most popular of her later-career roles however came with her recurring role on "Gilmore Girls" (The WB, 2000-06; The CW, 2006-07) as the wacky Babette Dell. A neighbor and friend to Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel), Babette was more than happy to share colorfully bizarre details of her life (including joining a cult and enjoying affairs with many singers) as well as to fiercely protect her beloved garden gnomes from dangers real and imagined. In September 2012, Struthers made unfortunate headlines by being arrested for drunk driving (OUI) in Maine, where she had been starring in the play "9 to 5."
By Jonathan Riggs