Al Bundy may not be the most wholesome father on television, but he is one of the most well-known. His self-deprecating jokes and family feuding felt more relatable than the idealistic onscreen families of the time.
Ed O’Neil brought the character to life almost exactly as the showrunners had envisioned him. He gave him a snarky persona that viewers loved. The role launched Ed’s long, successful career, although he did have to fight to be taken seriously after being in a well-known comedy for so long.
Like and subscribe to FactsVerse for more on the prolific actor. Watch our video to learn how Ed O’Neil landed the Al Bundy role on Married…with Children.
Ed O’Neil’s Early Life and Career
Ed O’Neil was born on April 12, 1946, in Youngstown, Ohio. He was the oldest of the 5 children of parents steelworker Edward O’Neill Sr. and social worker Ruthan Ann Quinlan. The family was relatively low-class and had to work long hours to survive.
Ed was 6’1 by the time he was a teenager and became an accomplished athlete at Ursuline High School. He kept the fact that he enjoyed acting in plays a secret at the time to avoid getting picked on by his classmates.
Ed had aspirations of becoming a professional football player; he later said he enjoyed the physicality and was “good at tackling people.”. He won a scholarship to Ohio University but moved to Youngstown University to play there the following year. He trained with the Steelers but didn’t make the team.
Another one of Ed’s earliest interests was history. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1969. He took odd jobs such as working at a hotel and steel mill before became a social studies teacher at his alma mater high school.
His interest in acting increased during this time. He started auditioning in 1972 but was constantly turned down. He moved to New York in 1977 with $1,700 in his savings account from selling his car and took on a job as a busboy to make ends meet.
His career in New York didn’t go well at first, but he didn’t give up. He studied at the Circle in the Square Theatre School to learn more about acting. He also went to the Lincoln Center Library to check out books on acting and listen to recordings of John Barrymore and Robert Shaw.
In 1979, Ed landed his first stage role as the understudy for the lead in the Broadway play Knockout. It started as a lucky break when he met a few of the cast members in a bar and impressed them with his boxing moves. He got on stage when the star stepped down. His performance earned positive reviews and started the ball rolling on his career.
Ed lived in Manhattan for the next 10 years working regional theater and appearing in commercial campaigns. His film debut was in the 1980 film Cruising. Al Pacino had seen his work in Knockout and was impressed.
Ed also earned a supporting role in Dogs of War and went on to get a spot on the TV show Another World. Healso guest-starred on Miami Vice and The Equalizer. Not all the shows he worked on went on to be successful; he was part of failed pilots for shows such as Farrell for the People and Popeye Doyle, a TV version of the 1971 film The French Connection.
How Ed O’Neil Became Al Bundy
An executive for Fox saw Ed O’Neill’s work on stage in Of Mice and Men and asked him to audition for Married…with Children. The offer came at a time when Fox was just beginning to try to make a name for itself as a TV network. In fact, it was the first primetime series they ever aired.
Ed practically had the role from the moment the audition began. He walked through the door of the Bundy family home sighing and slumping his shoulders. While some casting directors may see this as a sign of disdain or a lack of confidence, it was a positive sign this time because it was exactly what Al Bundy would have done.
The rest of Ed’s mannerisms and delivery during the audition also gave the right impression. He based his portrayal of Al Bundy on his carefree, self-deprecating Uncle Joe.
No one had high hopes for Married…with Children at first. Ed’s agent Bernie Brillstien wanted him to stick with more serious roles and his $400-$600 per week Broadway salary. Ed didn’t expect the show to remain on the air for more than a few episodes, so he initially turned down an offer to come in for another audition. The network kept asking, but he insisted on a pay rise before taking the part.
Bernie negotiated an even better deal for his client after season 8 when it was time to resign the contract for the show. Showrunner Gary Lieberthal wasn’t receptive to the idea at first but gave in to make sure that he didn’t lose the rising star that carried his program.
Once the show became a success, Bernie had one final demand; a new Porsche Carrera to replace Ed’s old Mustang. This negotiation went over more smoothly, as everyone involved was pleased to do it, including Ed who’d always loved cars.
Like and subscribe to FactsVerse for more on the most memorable sitcoms to ever grace a TV screen. Keep watching to learn how Married…with Children changed Ed O’Neill’s life and career forever.
Married..with Children aired its first episode in April of 1987. It followed The Bundy family who was named after wrestler King Kong Bundy. They were a dysfunctional family who constantly fought and put each other down. They served as a break from and almost a parody of the “perfect” TV families of the previous decade, and fans embraced the change.
Married with Children was a major success for several years. It was the longest-running show to never win an Emmy until Baywatch ended in 2001 and broke its record. It also held the distinction of being the longest-running American primetime scripted series after Murder She Wrote ended in 1996. It held that record until the end of its run. Despite its impressively long runtime, it never reached the top 20 of the Nielsen ratings.
Ed O’Neil wasn’t as rude as his TV counterpart; he even took the time to call fans on their birthdays while staying in character. Life did imitate art in many ways, though. Al Bundy played high school football in a callback to Ed’s early football career. His wife Catherine Rusoff, with whom he had 2 children, guest-starred on the show. He also developed a feud with a castmate.
Amanda Bearse played the Bundys’ next-door neighbor and never got along with Ed. She called him a bully and he retorted with, “well, you’re miserable.” He once said he could have her fired from the show if he wanted to, a comment he now regrets. He even admitted that she was right when she said that he’d have laughed at the sight of two women in tuxedos if she had invited him and fellow cast member David Faustino to her wedding.
Despite a bit of feuding, Ed’s role on Married…with Children was a cushy gig. He was the only one to appear on every episode of the show and earned $500,000 for each one by the end of the show’s run. It alone made him one of the highest-paid TV actors in history, a far cry from his early life of poverty.
Married With Children ended after 10 years, 260 episodes, and 11 seasons on May 6, 1997. Ed spoke about the change when he appeared on The Ellen Show to discuss the end of another popular show he’d starred in, Modern Family.
He allegedly was on vacation when he found out about the end of Married…with Children. 2 random newlyweds heard about it on the radio and asked his opinion. They apologized when he admitted that he didn’t know about it. He told them he’d rather have heard it from them and bought them a bottle of champagne to thank them.
The rest of the cast didn’t receive notice for weeks about the end of the successful show.
Ed blames the show’s cancellation on its expensive rights. Stations allegedly had to pay Sony $1 million to air a single episode. He also envisioned an ending where Al wins the lottery only to be swept away by a tornado.
Ed’s Career After the Show
Ed’s career took a downturn after Married…with Children ended because audiences were unable to see him as anyone other than Al Bundy. They laughed at his characters in every movie or show he appeared in, even if they were meant to take him seriously.
Ed continued to try to break out of this typecasting. He found a few worthwhile roles, such as the children’s sports comedy Little Giants in 1994, the Denzel Washington Film The Bone Collector, and the Troll King in the fantasy miniseries The 10th Kingdom.
It took nearly 20 years for the actor to find a part to rival his original success. Starting in the fall of 2009, he played Jay Pritchett on Modern Family, another long-running and successful comedy. The role earned Ed 3 consecutive Emmy nominations.
While this show was running, he also took up voice acting, appearing in Finding Dory, Wreck-It Ralph, and Ralph Breaks the Internet. He brought familiarly snarky energy to the animated characters.
Ed O’Neil now has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s placed right in front of a DSW shoe store as a callback to the role that made him famous.
Ed O’Neil began life as a poor boy in Ohio who moved on to acting after his attempts at a professional football career flopped. Casting directors knew he was the right choice the moment he walked in to audition for the role of Al Bundy on Married…with Children. Itt turned out to be the role that would launch his long and successful career.
Which of Ed O’Neil’s TV patriarch roles do you prefer; Al Bundy or Jay Pritchett? Let us know in the comments below. Like and subscribe to FactsVerse for more on the men behind the most memorable TV dads of all time.