Thursday, July 5, 2018

Carroll O'Connor: Six Feet Under

Carroll O'Connor.  Archie Bunker.  The two names go hand in hand.  And they both rose to national prominence in 1971 with the premiere of "All in the Family," a series that would literally re-write the sit-com industry for generations to come.  Gone were the Cleavers, the Nelsons, and all the other families who got along.  The Bunkers offered a more realistic vision of the modern family.

He was born John Carroll O'Connor on August 2, 1924.  Like his TV counterpart, O'Connor grew up in New York, spending much of his youth in Queens.  He appeared on stage throughout most of the 1950s and 60s, but failed to gain national attention until the 1970 film "Kelly's Heroes."  By that point however, he had already appeared in a record three pilot episodes for "All in the Family" under it's original name "Justice For All," which was ultimately picked up by CBS. 

O'Connor suffered from diabetes, which ultimately forced him to retire, having completed 12 seasons as Archie Bunker (on two back-to-back series) and six seasons starring on "In the Heat of the Night."  He lost a toe to the disease, before ultimately suffering a massive, fatal heart attack on June 21, 2001.  He was 76 years old.  The story dominated the evening news broadcasts.  See a compilation video here.

A funeral mass was held in Los Angeles.  Several co-stars from both series attended, with Jean Stapleton being the only notable exception.  The actress who appeared alongside O'Connor as Edith Bunker was committed to a play at the time and could not attend.  O'Connor's best friend and fellow actor Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing on "Dallas") delivered the eulogy.

Following the service, O'Connor was laid to rest at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village in Los Angeles in it's famed "Celebrity Row."  Sadly, his son Hugh preceded him in death by six years, having committed suicide in 1995.  He was already interred in the plot by the time O'Connor himself passed away.

This photo was taken prior to the death of O'Connor's widow Nancy, who ultimately passed on November 10, 2014, after a long bout with Alzheimer's Disease.

While visitors can pay their respects to O'Connor in Los Angeles, they can also see a museum of artifacts from his career some 3,000 miles away in the town of Covington, Georgia, where much of "In the Heat of the Night" was filmed.  Stop by the Visitors Center to see photos, costumes, and O'Connor's on-set chair from the landmark series.

Farewell Archie.  Those, truly were, the days.

Trivia:  In 1963, O'Connor screen tested for the role of the Skipper on "Gilligan's Island," a part that ultimately went to Alan Hale, Jr.  While studio execs favored O'Connor for the part, producer Sherwood Schwartz wanted someone more loveable. 

Fan Video of the O'Connor Family grave
  "Justice For All" Unaired 1968 pilot
  "In the Heat of the Night" reunion in Covington

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