Carroll O’Connor, the Broadway and film actor who was best known for playing the bigoted Archie Bunker on TV’s controversial sitcom, “All in the Family,” died June 21 of a heart attack in Los Angeles, according to wire reports.
The 76-year-old, silver-haired actor won multiple Emmy Awards for his work in the groundbreaking 1970s sitcom, about a narrow-minded New Yorker and his dysfunctional family, and he would go on to star as the small-town Southern sheriff in the TV drama series, “In the Heat of the Night,” for which he also took home the Emmy. The Bronx native was also a stage actor and playwright who, as late as 1997, appeared in a San Francisco staging of his own work, A Certain Labor Day.
In the drama, Mr. O’Connor played a retired labor leader, Gerry Maher. The work looked at the demise of the left wing in American politics and society. "There was an ideal of a social system that let us all be wholly caring of each other," Mr. O'Connor said at the time. "It was extinguished by the return of conservatism, but not before it had been employed to forge definitive societal changes. The organizers...who wrought the changes, when now and then remembered by later generations, are repudiated as un-American radicals, even while the nation...relies heavily on their successes."
Mr. O’Connor was educated at the University of Montana and the National University of Ireland, where he earned a bachelor’s degree. He acted in Ireland 1950-54, in a combined Gate and Abbey Theatre ensemble (he was the only American) and played the Edinburgh Festival in 1951 with the troupe. In London, immediately after, he played his first TV role, in a BBC production of "The Whiteheaded Boy." He then joined the Dublin Gate Theatre Company (under the direction of Hilton Edwards and Michael MacLiammoir). Back in the states, Off-Broadway, he appeared in Burgess Meredith's 1958 staging of Ulysses In Nighttown (and later played it in London and Paris), and in Peter Bogdanovich's 1959 revival staging of The Big Kinfe. Work in New York TV production earned him roles in Hollywood, but he would flirt with the stage over the years. He also created a nightclub act that played Reno, Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas. He recorded popular songs of the 1930s and 1940s for albums on the A&M and RCA labels.
Los Angeles productions of Heartbreak House, Candide and 1975's The Little Foxes (which he co-produced) at the Westwood Playhouse were jobs in a career of character roles. "Kelley's Heroes" was among his movies. On Broadway, he starred in and directed the 1983 Broadway play, Brothers, by George Sibbald, and starred in James Duff's Home Front, in 1985. The first sentence of his 1985 Playbill bio stated that Brothers was a "one-night flop he directed and starred in." He also wrote the 1964 comedy, Ladies Of Hanover Tower, produced then by the Theatre Group of Los Angeles. Mr. O'Connor was a familiar presence on television screens in a real-life drama in the 1990s. He defended himself in a lawsuit where he was charged with slander. When Mr. O'Connor's drug-addicted son, Hugh, committed suicide in 1995, the famed actor called his son's friend, who procured drugs for the young man, a "murderer." Mr. O’Connor was vindicated by the courts and spoke publicly about the ills of drugs and about society’s views of drug addiction.
He is survived by his wife, Nancy, who was reportedly with him when he died at a Los Angeles-area hospital.
— By Kenneth Jones