CARROLL O'CONNOR, TV's indelible Archie Bunker, dies of heart attack at age 76 - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

CARROLL O'CONNOR, TV's indelible Archie Bunker, dies of heart attack at age 76

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CULVER CITY, Calif. (AP) _ Carroll O'Connor, whose gruff charm as the cranky bigot Archie Bunker on ``All in the Family'' pioneered a new era of TV comedies that brought race relations into America's living rooms, has died of a heart attack. He was 76.

O'Connor collapsed at his home and was rushed to Brotman Medical Center, publicist Frank Tobin said. His wife of nearly 50 years, Nancy, was at his side.

Despite declining health, O'Connor remained active until the end of his life. He had a toe amputated last year because of circulatory troubles related to diabetes and underwent coronary bypass surgery in 1989.

Personal tragedy darkened O'Connor's later years. His only child, Hugh, a co-star with his father on the TV series ``In The Heat of The Night,'' shot himself in a drug-related suicide in 1995.

A talented actor who appeared on stage and in many movies, O'Connor's image was forever branded in the public's consciousness as Archie Bunker, the outspoken, blue-collar bigot who railed against a changing world he no longer understood.

Actor-director Rob Reiner, who played Archie's outspoken and steadfastly liberal son-in-law, said that O'Connor was an intellectual who shared only one trait with Bunker.

``He was stubborn, just like Archie. But stubborn for the right things, to push for quality in the shows and to make sure that certain ideas were exposed in a meaningful way,'' Reiner said Thursday night. ``He was much more soft-spoken, a much gentler person.''

``All in the Family'' producer Norman Lear has said he considered other actors for the role but that O'Connor brought just the right combination of ``bombast and sweetness'' to Archie.

``Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker was a genius at work, God's gift to the world,'' Lear told KABC-TV. ``He is etched permanently in our memories.''

O'Connor was a relative unknown when Lear tapped him to play a blue-collar worker from New York's borough of Queens whose ignorance and intolerance was his own comic foil.

On Jan. 12, 1971, Archie began a 13-year sputtering tirade over minorities, liberals and his long-haired, hippie son-in-law Mike, whom he called ``Meathead'' and ``Pinko.''

The character was redeemed by his die-hard affection for his wife, Edith (Jean Stapleton), lovingly referred to by Archie as ``Dingbat;'' their daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers), who he often called ``Little Girl;'' and his grudging affection for ``Meathead.''

O'Connor further redeemed Archie by making him a vulnerable and threatened family tyrant, an outdated, uneducated man fearful of the sexual, political and racial changes he saw sweeping America from the living-room easy chair that he would park himself in after another hard day's work.

The subtext could be seen in the show's nostalgic opening song, ``Those Were the Days,'' sung with shrill, off-key bravado by Stapleton and O'Connor.

``He was one of the most intelligent and generous people I have ever worked with,'' Stapleton said. ``When I have the occasion to catch a rerun, I am reminded of his marvelous talent and humor.''

Adapted from the British series ``Till Death Do Us Part,'' ``All in the Family'' shattered the sitcom mold that had produced decades of series like ``Father Knows Best'' and ``Leave it to Beaver,'' which featured inherently wise paternal figures.

It got off to a rocky start, with many people initially finding it unsettling and offensive.

Eventually, viewers embraced Archie and the series ranked No. 1 for five years, was top-rated for much of its run and gave birth to two spin-offs, ``Maude'' and ``The Jeffersons.''

Throughout it all, Archie remained an unapologetic fool who learned his lessons too late. In the end he found himself brokenhearted and alone after his daughter, son-in-law and grandchild moved away and his wife died.

But that wasn't the end for Archie.

O'Connor moved from ``All in the Family'' (1971-79) to the lesser-regarded ``Archie Bunker's Place'' (1979-83), which was based in a bar owned by Archie rather than in the Bunker household.

Unlike the gritty Corona section of Queens that Archie Bunker knew, O'Connor and his two brothers grew up in the borough's nearby but affluent Forest Hills neighborhood. Their father was an attorney and their mother a schoolteacher.

``I never heard Archie's kind of talk in my own family,'' O'Connor once said. ``My father disliked talk like Archie's _ he called it lowbrow.''

Although both his siblings became physicians, O'Connor studied literature and acting.

He met his future wife, Nancy Fields, while appearing in a play, and they were married in 1951 in Dublin, where he finished his undergraduate studies at the National University of Ireland.

He went on to appear on stage throughout Europe in the 1950s before breaking into movies.

``Lonely Are the Brave'' and ``Cleopatra'' (both 1963), ``Hawaii'' (1966) and ``Point Blank'' (1967) were among the earliest movies in which he appeared.

Then came ``All in the Family,'' which made him a star and, eventually, a four-time Emmy winner.

He followed ``Archie Bunker's Place'' with a return to New York theater, then came back to TV in 1988 with ``In the Heat of the Night,'' a police drama based on the 1967 Rod Steiger-Sidney Poitier film.

That show ended in 1994 but O'Connor still wasn't through with television, having a recurring role in ``Mad About You,'' from 1996 to 1999.

In 2000, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and made his final screen appearance in the romantic comedy ``Return to Me.''

``Today's public recognition is something I never wished for or even cared about,'' he once said, reflecting on the fame ``All in the Family'' brought him.

``But now that it is here,'' he added, ``I find it wonderful, of course.''
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