|Subject: Archive: June 21, 2001 ~ Carroll O'Connor dies at 76
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Date Posted: Friday, June 21, 02:13:55pm
TV Icon Carroll O'Connor Dies
Los Angeles Times
June 22, 2001
Carroll O'Connor, the Emmy-winning actor best known for his iconic role as Archie Bunker in the groundbreaking 1970s television comedy "All in the Family," died Thursday afternoon after suffering a heart attack. He was 76.
The silver-haired, blue-eyed actor was rushed from the family home to Brotman Medical Center in Culver City after experiencing chest pains. His wife of 50 years, Nancy, was with him when he died about an hour after being admitted.
Widely considered to be among the greatest and most influential of television comedies, "All in the Family" and the character of Bunker—a lovable, conservative bigot loosely modeled after series creator Norman Lear's own father—established O'Connor as a major television star.
O'Connor played Bunker for 13 seasons, with "All in the Family" becoming "Archie Bunker's Place" a decade into that run, after the departure of the show's other major cast members.
Lear said he heard the news about 3:30 p.m. Thursday and last spoke with O'Connor a couple of months ago. Regarding the casting of O'Connor and co-stars Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, he said, "While I made the decisions, it was the gods at play, because nobody was responsible for them being in the business, around and available. . . .
"Carroll O'Connor walked into my office, we shook hands, we sat down at a table, took out a script and started reading Archie Bunker, and as the character was later wont to say, 'Case closed,' " he recalled. "I looked up to the heavens and said, 'Thank God, Archie has arrived.' "
Reiner—who played Archie's son-in-law Michael Stivic, whom he dubbed "Meathead"—said upon learning of O'Connor's death, "It was really shocking to me. It's terrible and I feel horrible. I loved Carroll and he's going to be missed. He created the most indelible character ever created in American TV."
Now a sought-after director, Reiner said that although the two didn't see much of each other over the years, "there was always incredible fond feelings." He cited the actor's integrity and commitment to quality as a key factor in the show's success.
Altering the TV Landscape
"We were all theatrically trained actors, [so] we viewed each show as a little two-act play," Reiner said. "There were times when we would tape the show in real time. We would do a show in 30 minutes and then we would be done. Everyone came there prepared. We didn't forget our lines."
Added Bud Yorkin, executive producer of "All in the Family": "Carroll was a man who took everything very seriously. He wouldn't accept everything. Some people might have found that difficult, but he was just trying to make it better. I thought he was a terrific performer. And I can't imagine anyone else doing that role."
Famously rejected by ABC despite the fact that the network shot two versions of a prototype episode, the series vaulted CBS atop the prime time ratings and gave rise to more spinoff shows than any in history—including such popular comedies as "Maude" and "The Jeffersons."
Moreover, the show forever altered a television landscape that had been largely filled with innocuous characters and that generally steered clear of sensitive topics, said Earle Marsh, coauthor of "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows."
"Everything in sitcoms had been, up until then, squeaky clean," Marsh said. "Couples never slept in the same bed. No one ever had sex. What happened with 'All in the Family,' it dealt with realistic issues in a realistic manner in a comedy."
Marsh, who was working in CBS' research department when the show debuted, acknowledged that no one at the network was sure whether the American public would buy it. Although not an instant success, the program took off in the ratings during its first year after moving to Saturday nights, where more than half the available audience tuned in each week.
"One of the unusual things about 'All in the Family' was that people saw the absurdity of his prejudice and all his bizarre attitudes," Marsh said. "[But] you couldn't hate him. He was a fool, but he had a good heart. O'Connor made Archie likable."
Lear, who began to break down in reminiscing about O'Connor, said CBS hired 80 additional telephone operators to take calls and put an advisory at the start of the show warning that it might disturb some viewers.
Yet despite criticism of both the show's liberal politics and Bunker's use of derisive terminology to describe various racial and ethnic groups, Lear said, "Carroll and I thought the show started people talking around the dinner table. When the show went off, they had something to talk about. That we could take credit for, but not for changing anything. America took it in stride. The Establishment didn't. There's nothing Archie said that [people] couldn't or didn't hear on the playground."
A self-described liberal, O'Connor said in a 1994 interview that the character of Archie "wasn't even close" to who he was as a person. Still, he conceded, "I'll never play a better part than Archie. He was the best character, the most fulfilling character, and I never thought it was going to develop that way. There's no role that can top that."
Peter Bonerz, a regular on "The Bob Newhart Show," directed O'Connor more than 20 years ago on "Archie Bunker's Place."
"Carroll was at the height of his power," Bonerz recalled. "TV actors don't ordinarily possess a lot of power. You can count on one hand the number of actors who did. Carroll did at that time. I always remarked at how he used his power. He didn't use his power to create an agenda for the show. He wanted to surround himself with actor friends of his, [with] whom he could share the success he had."
Read more at: https://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-carroll-oconnor-20010622-20160613-snap-story.html
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