Carroll O'Connor opened many doors to the world of controversy and social issues. He started a path that would soon be traveled by many and helped lead the way to the type of television that we know today.
How It All Started
Carroll was born in Bronx, New York on August 2, 1924. Carroll began his acting career while being a student at National University of Ireland 1952 and focused his early years on stage acting and performing in European cities such as London, Paris and Dublin. He then returned to the University of Montana after marrying Nancy Fields in 1951. Carroll had his first appearances in films like By Love Possessed (1961) and In Harm's Way (1965). Within a few years he was offered the lead role in an American version of the British program Til Death Do Us Part which was extremely popular. ABC Television had the original rights to series in 1968 and financed the production of two episodes of the soon to be famous All in the Family (initially called Those Were the Days). However, being a series of great socially controversial content, ABC rejected it. This led Norman Lear to sell the series to CBS where it finally aired for the first time on January 12,1971.
A Trailblazer in History
When the show hit the airways, it was the first of its kind and opened the doors to many shows of today by altering the tone and style of television prime time programming. This show was comprised of O'Connor playing the role of Archie Bunker, the working-class ignoramus, his wife Edith (played by Jean Stapleton) who redeemed her husband's hang-ups, Gloria (played by Sally Struthers) his liberal daughter, and the son-in-law Michael (played by Rob Reiner) who went on to be called "Meathead" throughout the remainder of the show. All In The Family was definitely the center of attention after it was aired because it brought issues like racism and bigotry into the spotlight mixed with a certain amount of humor. Even though this character brought much controversy to television and the public, it earned him eight nominations and a total of four Emmy Awards. It also started two popular spin-offs, Maude and The Jeffersons, which happens to be one of the longest-running television series about African Americans.
Although All In The Family ended in 1979, he continued to play Archie Bunker in the related series Archie Bunker's Place, however, it was much less successful as the original and ended in 1983. These two series were criticized by liberals saying the show was too matter-of-fact when it came to bigotry, and the conservatives argued that it made fun of their views. Carroll's other well known television role later came when he played the well-loved liberal sheriff and the executive producer of In The Heat of the Night which ran from 1988 to 1992. This show won two NAACP Image Awards for adding to the positive portrayals of African Americans on television. He won another Emmy for this performance in 1988.
Always Making A Difference
As well as things were going for Carroll, it all came to a devastating halt when his son Hugh who worked with him in The Heat of the Night committed suicide after a failure to control a drug addiction. Even worse, one of Hugh's friends brought charges of slander against Carroll saying that he was partly responsible for his son's death because he supplied Hugh with drugs. Carroll was soon cleared of all such charges and he became an extremely active anti-drug spokesperson. Carroll pushed for things like laws that would give states and individuals the right to sue drug dealers for damages, and took part in several public service announcements urging parents and stressing the importance of helping their kids stay away from drugs. However, he still continued to appear on television even though his career was slowing down, but his remarkable reputation remained. He had a few reoccurring roles on the popular FOX series Party of Five, and played Helen Hunt's father on Mad About You. He last appeared the in the romantic comedy Return to Me in 2000 with Minnie Driver and David Duchovny.
Never To Be Forgotten
Carroll O'Connor died on June 21, 2001 due to a heart attack caused by diabetes complications at the age of 76.
- Personal Knowledge