General News

O'Connor, of Archie Bunker fame, dead

By:
Jun 22, 2001 | 5:21pm EDT
Caroll O'Connor
Carroll O'Connor

Actor Carroll O'Connor, best known for his role as Archie Bunker on the 1970s television series All in the Family, died of a heart attack Thursday at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, Calif. The heart attack was brought on by complications from diabetes. Mr. O'Connor had a toe amputated last year because of circulatory problems and underwent coronary bypass surgery in 1989. He was 76.

Mr. O'Connor was born in Bronx, N.Y., on Aug. 2, 1924. He attended the National University at Dublin, in Ireland, in 1952 and the University of Montana, where he majored in English and speech. When he returned to the United States, Mr. O'Connor began winning supporting roles in feature films and guest appearances on TV series, including By Love Possessed and Hawaii. His apprenticeship as an actor was long and he spent many years as a substitute teacher, living with his wife Nancy and awaiting his big break. That finally came at age 46, when Mr. O'Connor became Archie Bunker on the groundbreaking series All in the Family.

The series, which premiered in January 1971, followed the lives of a blue-collar conservative, his "dingbat" wife (Jean Stapleton), daughter (Sally Struthers) and freeloading son-in-law (Rob Reiner). Audiences took a while to warm up to the sitcom that dealt with rape, affirmative action, gender debates and integration, but they fell in love with Mr. O'Connor.

"The funny thing about Archie is that he wouldn't change his mind," he told The Los Angeles Times in May 1994. "You got a kick over watching a guy who is constantly in pain over things you take for granted."

Reiner told The Associated Press on Thursday that Mr. O'Connor "was stubborn, just like Archie. But stubborn for the right things, to push for quality in the shows and to make sure that certain ideas were exposed in a meaningful way. He was much more soft-spoken, a much gentler person."

Mr. O'Connor frequently battled with the show's writers about what Bunker would say and do. Hollywood writer-producer Norman Lear, who cast Mr. O'Connor as Archie Bunker, publicly supported the actor's creativity and credited O'Connor for the show's huge success. Mr. O'Connor went on to produce several TV projects for CBS.

After Struthers and Reiner left the show in 1979, Mr. O'Connor and Jean Stapleton put onto the sequel, Archie's Place. Stapleton departed the series a year later in an emotional episode in which Edith died in her sleep. The series was cancelled in 1983. Mr. O'Connor, who constantly fought with CBS executives during the run of Archie's Place, vowed never to work with the network again. He returned to New York to make his Broadway debut in Brothers.

He wrote and directed several episodes of The Redd Foxx Show and made sporadic appearances in TV movies. Mr. O'Connor then returned to primetime television in In The Heat of the Night which ran on NBC from 1988 through 1992 and on CBS from 1992 through 1994. His return to CBS worked out his time, and after the series' cancellation, continued to work on several television projects for the network.

"He was a brilliant actor who redefined the nature of acting on television," CBS spokesman Gil Schwartz said. "He was a man of great talent and conviction, and who was a credit to the industry."

Tragedy struck the actor in 1995 when his only son, Hugh O'Connor, committed suicide. The O'Connors adopted Hugh in Rome a year after his 1962 birth. Hugh O'Connor fought his drug addiction for many years. A distraught Mr. O'Connor appeared on television and blamed drugs and the man who sold the drugs to his son for his death. The dealer was convicted in 1996.

After months of being in the public eye, Mr. O'Connor joined the cast of the Fox series Party of Five in the recurring role of the orphan's grandfather. He also had a supporting in last year's romantic comedy, Return to Me, playing Minnie Driver's grandfather.

Details of the funeral arrangements are not yet known. Mr. O'Connor is survived by Nancy O'Connor, his wife of 50 years.

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