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Carroll O'Connor

Carroll O'Connor

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Also Known As: Matt Harris Died: June 21, 2001
Born: August 2, 1924 Cause of Death: heart attack
Birth Place: Bronx, New York, USA Profession: actor, producer, director, screenwriter, composer, playwright, schoolteacher

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

O'Connor's apprenticeship as an actor was long; he spent many years as a substitute schoolteacher living with his wife in cold-water flats awaiting the "big break". He was well into his thirties when steady, albeit supporting, work came as an actor. But at age 46, Carroll O'Connor became Archie Bunker, the endearing bigot who grew to accept diversity (somewhat) on the ground-breaking CBS series, "All in the Family". When the series premiered in January 1971, audiences did not quite know what to make of it--a sitcom which followed the lives of a conservative, loading dock foreman, his "dingbat" wife, daughter and freeloading liberal son-in-law. The premise was typical TV fare, but the content was surely not: Archie Bunker's bigoted, conservative views would be challenged by his liberal son-in-law, and often by his good-hearted wife. Even if audiences and the nation took awhile to swallow sitcom storylines dealing with rape, affirmative action, gender debates, and integration, they fell in love with O'Connor. He portrayed Bunker unabashedly, his thinning white hair sticking up higher and higher on his head as his views were confronted and he screamed and bantered and sat his paunchy frame on "his...

O'Connor's apprenticeship as an actor was long; he spent many years as a substitute schoolteacher living with his wife in cold-water flats awaiting the "big break". He was well into his thirties when steady, albeit supporting, work came as an actor. But at age 46, Carroll O'Connor became Archie Bunker, the endearing bigot who grew to accept diversity (somewhat) on the ground-breaking CBS series, "All in the Family". When the series premiered in January 1971, audiences did not quite know what to make of it--a sitcom which followed the lives of a conservative, loading dock foreman, his "dingbat" wife, daughter and freeloading liberal son-in-law. The premise was typical TV fare, but the content was surely not: Archie Bunker's bigoted, conservative views would be challenged by his liberal son-in-law, and often by his good-hearted wife. Even if audiences and the nation took awhile to swallow sitcom storylines dealing with rape, affirmative action, gender debates, and integration, they fell in love with O'Connor. He portrayed Bunker unabashedly, his thinning white hair sticking up higher and higher on his head as his views were confronted and he screamed and bantered and sat his paunchy frame on "his chair" (which now sits in the Smithsonian). Not only did "All in the Family" become CBS'--and the nation's--top show for five seasons, but O'Connor won four Emmy Awards and eventually took de facto creative control of the series.

It was a long road to such stardom. O'Connor had studied in Ireland and performed on stage in Dublin and other parts of Europe, before returning to the U.S. in the early 1950s. Work was scarce, but beginning in the early 60s, he began winning supporting parts in feature films and guest appearances on TV series. In 1961 alone, O'Connor could be seen in "By Love Possessed", "A Fever in the Blood" and "Parrish" on the big screen, and a year later he was in "Alcoa Premiere" and "The Dick Powell Show" on the small screen. Although he made his first TV pilot in 1963 with "Luxury Liner" for NBC, and appeared in "Cleopatra" that same year, possibly O'Connor's best-known role in the 60s was Charles Bromley in "Hawaii" (1966), the Massachusetts church elder organizing the missionaries. Hollywood writer-producer Norman Lear was aware of O'Connor and his work and in the late 60s cast him as Archie Bunker in two pilots for ABC based on the British series "'Til Death Do Us Part". The network balked at giving the potentially controversial series a weekly berth, but CBS picked it up. Instant TV stardom followed, including talk show appearances and specials. But O'Connor was most interested in the work. He battled frequently with the writers about what Bunker would say and would do. Lear publicly supported O'Connor's creativity, giving O'Connor the lion's share of the success of the show. (O'Connor also wrote the closing theme.) Using his clout at CBS, O'Connor created and co-executive produced "Bronk", a one-season series starring Jack Palance. He also produced a number of other TV projects, and was earning the then unprecedented $100,000 per episode salary for portraying Bunker. In 1979, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers departed "All in the Family," and O'Connor and Jean Stapleton, who had won celebrity of her own as Edith Bunker, moved on to a sequel, "Archie Bunker's Place". Archie, now half the bigot he used to be, owned a bar-restaurant (with a Jewish partner, no less) and the couple was also raising Edith's little girl cousin. Stapleton departed the series a year later with an emotional episode in which Edith had died in her sleep and Archie and Stephanie, his ward, are left to mourn. O'Connor battled CBS executives often during the run of "Archie Bunker's Place", on which he had almost complete creative control. The series was canceled in 1983 and O'Connor swore he would never work for CBS again. He took off for New York to make his long-delayed Broadway debut in "Brothers".

Returning to Hollywood, O'Connor wrote and directed episodes of "The Redd Foxx Show" (ABC, 1986) and made sporadic dramatic appearances in TV-movies. O'Connor, again with autonomy, returned to series TV as Chief Bill Gillespie in a show based on the feature film "In the Heat of the Night" (NBC, 1988-92; CBS 1992-94). Filmed in Georgia, the show followed Gillespie as he dealt with the activities in a small Southern town, and traced his growth from a bigoted individual to one who accepts diversity without card-carrying for any political agenda. NBC canceled the series after two seasons, and when CBS picked up the show, O'Connor found himself back at his old network. The new marriage worked. Not only did the series last as a weekly effort, but Gillespie married an African American woman, (portrayed by Denise Nicholas), a feat that would have seemed inconceivable for TV over twenty years earlier when Archie Bunker made his appearance. Following its cancellation, "In the Heat of the Night" returned to CBS as a series of TV-movies. O'Connor was now firmly positioned as a TV icon. He was among the first batch of notables awarded a bust at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Building in North Hollywood, and was elected to that group's Hall of Fame in 1990.

Tragedy struck in March 1995 when O'Connor's only child, an adopted son Hugh, a part-time actor who had been battling drug addiction for some time, committed suicide. Battling tears, O'Connor appeared before TV cameras to indict drugs as the culprit. He blamed the man who sold the drugs to his son and fought to see him brought to justice. The dealer was convicted in January 1996. After months out of the public eye, the still paunchy, still white-haired, now older O'Connor joined the cast of the Fox TV series "Party of Five" in the recurring role of the orphans' grandfather. His last film appearance was a the co-owner of an Irish-Italian restaurant in "Return to Me" (2000).

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Return to Me (2000) Marty O'Reilly
2.
 36 Hours to Die (1999) Uncle Jack O'Malley
3.
 Gideon (1998) Leo Barnes
4.
 In the Heat of the Night: Grow Old Along With Me (1995) Sheriff Bill Gillespie
5.
 In the Heat of the Night: By Duty Bound (1995) Sheriff Bill Gillespie
6.
 In the Heat of the Night: A Matter of Justice (1994) Sheriff Bill Gillespie
7.
 In the Heat of the Night: Who Was Geli Bendl? (1994) Sheriff Bill Gillespie
8.
 Father Clements Story, The (1987) Cardinal Cody
9.
 Convicted (1986) Lewis May
10.
 Brass (1985) Frank Nolan
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1946:
Film debut, "Johnny Frenchman"
1949:
Company member, Dublin's Gate Theatre
1957:
Off-Broadway debut, "The Big Knife"
1961:
Returned to features in "By Love Possessed," "A Fever in the Blood" and "Parrish"
1962:
Early TV credits include "Alcoa Premiere" and "The Dick Powell Show"
1963:
Co-starred as Casca in "Cleopatra"
1963:
Made first TV pilot, the unsuccessful "Luxury Liner" for NBC
1969:
TV-movie debut, "Fear No Evil" (NBC)
1971:
Premiere of "All in the Family" with O'Connor as Archie Bunker
:
"All in the Family" airs on CBS, five seasons as top series
1972:
Sang and danced in the TV special "Of Thee I Sing" (CBS)
1974:
Last feature film to date, "Law and Disorder"
:
Created and co-executive produced, "Bronk" (CBS)
1977:
Executive producer on "The Banana Company"
:
Continued as Archie Bunker in "Archie Bunker's Place" series
1982:
Directed pilot, co-executive produced, "Gloria" (CBS)
1983:
Made Broadway debut in "Brothers" at the Music Box Theatre
1985:
Starred in "Home Front" at the Royale Theatre, NY
1986:
Directed and wrote "The Redd Foxx Show" (CBS)
:
Executive producer and star, "The Heat of the Night" (NBC, then CBS)
1994:
Chief Gillespie (O'Connor) married African American woman (Denise Nicholas) on "In the Heat of the Night"
:
"In the Heat of the Night" airs as several two-hour movie specials
1996:
Joined cast of "Party of Five" in recurring role as the grandfather
2000:
Honored with star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (March 17)
2000:
Final film role as the owner of an Irish-Italian restaurant in "Return to Me"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

National University at Dublin: - 1952
University of Montana: Missoula , Montana - 1956
University of Montana: Missoula , Montana - 1956

Notes

O'Connor underwent surgery to clear his carotoid artery in June 1998.

He was inducted into Television Academy Hall of Fame (1990)

"Carroll's a team player, an ensemble player. That was one of the major keys to our successs. He's always listening and responding, and contacting the other actors in many different ways from an internal source."--Jean Stapleton quoted in PR material for "The 6th Annual Television Academy Hall of Fame"

In March 1989, O'Connor underwent successful open heart surgery and gall bladder surgery, yet was gone from "In the Heat of the Night" a mere four weeks.

"People say 'It's curious. You were once playing a character that wouldn't dream of this kind of marriage.' [to a black woman] Well, the character I'm playing now wouldn't dream of that kind of marriage either, but things happened to him that didn't happen to Archie Bunker. A kind of insight and enlightenment happened to Gillespie." --O'Connor in the Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1994.

"The funny thing about Archie is that he wouldn't change his mind. That was the fun, the comedy and the satire. That's what you laughed at. He never laughed at anything himself, Archie. The world was a painful place to him. And because it was painful to him, it was funny to you. You got a kick over watching a guy who was constantly in pain over things you take for granted." --O'Connor to the Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1994.

O'Connor on the influence of "All in the Family" on America: "Probably nothing. No TV show can change a stubbornly status quo society like America, or at most temporarily."

"I've spoken with the FBI and the IRS investigaotrs. The [federal] government does a great job on the big guys [on big drug discoveries] but the outlets are all there with those bastards on the street pushing drugs to kids in thte schools. I'm glad the judge gave this decision [a conviction for drug dealer Harry Perzigian, the man O'Connor holds responsible for his son Hugh's suicide]. It shows people we can go forward to get this done. I've got to do something in his [Hugh's] name."--O'Connor quoted by Army Archerd in Daily Variety, January 12, 1996.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Nancy O'Connor. Married on July 28, 1951.

Family close complete family listing

son:
Hugh O'Connor. Actor. Born 1961; adopted by O'Connors in Rome in 1962; married costumer Angela Clayton March 28, 1992; battled drug problems; appeared on "In the Heat of the Night"; commited suicide March 28, 1995.

Bibliography close complete biography

"I Think I'm Outta Here: A Memoir of All My Families" Pocket Books

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