The cherished American sitcom, All in the Family, was created and written by TV legend Norman Lear. The beloved series ran for nine seasons from 1971 to 1979. The series starred Carroll O’Connor as the bigoted yet still somehow lovable Archie Bunker. Jean Stapelton played Archie’s naive yet consistently unappreciated wife Edith. Sally Struthers took the role as Archie and Edith’s daughter Gloria while Rob Reiner played her husband Mike.
The working-class family lives in Queens, New York. The series is the product of touchy social issues like racism, feminism, LGBT rights, antisemitism, religion, and sexual assault. Also, the popular anti-war movement weaves into its plotline in a tactful way that it is still a friendly-family affair.
Even though just touching on these controversial issues can be a bit tricky during that era. All in the Family handles these topics with grace and charm. In the process, more conservative audience members were eased into subjects without feeling preached to. Some viewers identified more with Archie while others connected more with liberal characters like Mike and Gloria. Regardless of one’s political views, there is something there for everyone. At the end of the day, Norman Lear presents viewers with something truly unique. There isn’t another show like All In the Family back in the day. That’s precisely why it makes waves with both fans and critics alike.
The show’s somewhat stereotypical portrayal of bigotry and progressiveness is a bit out of date. It manages to stand the test of time and considering one of the greatest sitcoms to hit the small screen. Sadly though, since it’s such an old show, many of the series stars have since passed on. We’re going to be discussing all the cast members who die in the last 41 years since its series finale.
Archie Bunker was quite the character. O’Connor, a New York City native, starts his acting career on the stage in Dublin, Ireland. He attends college as well as New York City where he is born and grow up. After making his TV debut on the series ‘Sunday Showcase’, O’Connor landed parts in other TV series like Gunsmoke, The Outler Limits, The Fugitive, and Bonanza – just to name a few.
Obviously though, his best-known role was that of playing Archie Bunker on All in the Family and in its spin-off series Archie Bunker’s Place which ran from 1979 to 1983. After wrapping up his time playing Bunker on both of those series, O’Connor went on to star in the TV adaptation of ‘In the Heat of the Night’ which became another one of his career-defining roles.
O’Connor was in fact one of the only actors to ever win the Primetime Emmy Award for Best Lead Actor in both a Comedy and Drama series.
O’Connor was married to his wife Nancy Fields until his death. The couple loved each other deeply and were practically inseparable. They ended up adopting a son together named Hugh but sadly he took his own life in 1995 after a long battle with drug and alcohol addiction.
O’Connor himself passed away in 2001 at the age of 76 after suffering a heart attack.
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And don’t you dare think about sneaking off so soon. Stick around to learn who else from the All in the Family cast has passed away in recent years. It’s actually quite astonishing just how few of the show’s original cast members are still with us.
She will always be known as Edith Bunker to most people. She was such a kindhearted and gentle woman but Archie struggled to see past her flaws and often ridiculed her in a manner that audiences today would cringe at. Regardless of those backward sentiments, Edith’s gentle spirit was at the heart of All in the Family and she often showed Archie the error of his ways so that he could become more empathetic of others.
Stapleton, like O’Connor, was born in New York City and also got her start acting on stage. She was the daughter of a celebrated opera singer, so the performing arts were practically in her blood. She first started acting doing summer stock theater but eventually found her way to Broadway taking part in musicals like Funny Girl and Damn Yankees.
Before signing on with the rest of the cast of All in the Family, Stapleton appeared in TV shows like The Patty Duke Show, My Three Sons, and Dennis The Menace. She declined to reprise her role for Archie Bunker’s Place after deciding that her character had pretty much run her course. While she did appear briefly in the series, her character died from a stroke after five episodes.
Stapleton herself passed away in 2013 at the age of 90.
You might remember this iconic actor for playing George Jefferson, a character that audiences got to know through both All in the Family and its equally popular spin-off series The Jeffersons. George was Archie’s next-door neighbor, and the two strong-willed men often butt heads over somewhat cliched neighborly things and the state of the world. George maintained his role on the series from 1973 to 1978.
After wrapping up his tenure on All in the Family, Sherman went on to star in the lead role in The Jeffersons for 11 seasons from 1975 to 1985. Hensley, much like his All in the Family peers also enjoyed an extensive stage career.
In addition to starring in those two Norman Lear sitcoms, Hensley also appeared in series like Amen, Te Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Dinosaurs.
Hensley died in 2012 at the age of 74 after a brief struggle with lung cancer.
Ms. Sanford portrayed George Jefferson’s wife Louise, better known by her endearing nickname Weezy. While Archie and George often got on each other’s nerves and ended up getting into little spats, Edith and Louise were constantly trying to figure out how to pacify the two. Louise first appeared in Season 1 which happened to be much earlier in the series than George did. She is depicted as being kind and mild-mannered just like Edith but with a tad bit more intelligence and book smarts. Sanford later joined Sherman Hemsley as a cast member of The Jeffersons in 1975.
Sanford grew up much like many other All in the Family cast members in New York City. After graduating from High School, she joined Harlem’s American Negro Theater and The Star Players. She first appeared on stage in 1946, but before long she was starring in both on and off-Broadway productions.
After separating from her husband in 1960, she and her three kids made the move to Los Angeles. That’s when her film and television career really started to take off. She was cast in the 1967 classic film Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner which caught the attention of Norman Lear who subsequently cast her in All In The Family.
Sanford died in 2004 in Los Angeles at the ripe old age of 86 but her legacy has never perished. Throughout her career, she received five Golden Globes nods and seven Emmy nominations. In 1981, she won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, making her the first black woman to win in that particular category.
George and Louise Jefferson’s son Lionel first made his appearance in the All in the Family pilot episode ‘Meet the Bunkers’. His character was particularly notable for being a mostly positive depiction of an opinionated young black man – which was particularly unique for the era.
Archie and Lionel constantly had their spats, but he never let the old conservative bigot’s casual racism affect him. Rather, he laughed it off and took it as just another sign of Archie’s backward ways. He didn’t see Archie as an evil person but instead saw him as just an ignorant one. At the end of the day, Archie still considered Lionel to be his friend and even somewhat of a protege.
Evans died of throat cancer in 2006. He was 57 years old.
Melvin played Barney Hefner, Archie’s neighbor and best friend. He started off appearing in the show only occasionally but eventually, his on-screen presence increased as the series progressed. Melvin’s popularity as an actor increased as he played Barney and he eventually ended up become a regular on the series as well as on its spin-off Archie Bunkers Place.
Melvin died in 2008 from cancer at the age of 84. Fittingly, he was buried near Carroll O’Connor’s grave.
Betty Garrett and Vincent Gardenia
Betty Vincent played the bunker’s progressive Catholic neighbors, Irene and Frank Lorenzo. Frank was Italian while his wife was Irish – an allusion to the multicultural makeup of their diverse Queens neighborhood. Irene was somewhat of a feminist who was particularly skilled with tools and often fixed things around the house without the aid of her husband. Archie eventually took her on as a forklift operator at the plant he worked at.
Garrett passed away in 2011 at the age of 91 after experiencing an aortic aneurysm.
Vincent Gardenia was a loud and somewhat obnoxious man who loved to sing and cook. At one point he worked as a salesman, although what he was actually selling was never mentioned.
Garrett was found dead in 1992 after having a heart attack in his hotel room. He was working on a stage production of the comedy Breaking Legs by Tom Dulack at the time. He passed away on the morning of the final preview performance. The show ended up going on without him, but the opening performance was dedicated to his memory.
Even though she arguably is best known for starring in the Norman Lear produced spin-off series Maude, Arthur first portrayed her strong-willed, feminist character on All In the Family.
Maude not surprisingly was one of Archie’s biggest foes. The two often engaged in heated exchanges, but unlike Archie’s spats with Lionel, Maude always fought back and let her voice be heard. She had very little patience for Archie’s outmoded ideas and worldview.
Arthur died in 2009 from lung cancer. She was 86.
Well, that’s about all the time we have for this video. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed going on this little trek down memory lane with us even though we did so for some pretty morbid reasons. Instead of mourning the deaths of these talented actors, however, let’s celebrate their memories by acknowledging their many career accomplishments. We’re pretty sure that’s how they would want to be remembered anyways.
Now’s actually your turn to let your voice be heard if you want. In the comments section below let us know which Norman Lear sitcom resonated with you the most, All in the Family or the Jeffersons.
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