Actor's Biography: Carrol O Conner

Carroll O'Connor rose to fame as the loudmouth, bigot character, Archie Bunker, on TV's All in the Family. Information on the show, his career and life.

Born on August 2, 1924 in New York City, Carroll O'Connor was the oldest of three boys born to a prosperous attorney and schoolteacher. While both of his brothers went on to study medicine and become doctors, Carroll gravitated toward acting. Reared on Long Island in wealthy Forest Hills, he grew up in privilege even during the Great Depression.

O'Connor went on to college at the University of Montana, eventually earning a masters' degree in fine arts from the school. His early years of acting were marked by stage work, mainly in Europe and Ireland. Throughout the 1960s, he appeared in a variety of films, including "Cleopatra" and "Kelly's Heroes." His characters were never the lead, however, and O'Connor earned a reputation as a solid supporting actor in a variety of roles.

All of that changed in 1971. On January 12 of that year, CBS, after being persuaded by producer Norman Lear, aired the first installments of a controversial new program entitled "All in the Family." O'Connor's role of the bigoted, sloppy, self-righteous Archie Bunker had originally been earmarked for Jackie Gleason. However, the liberal, openminded O'Connor accepted the role, and was given appropriate notice only a few weeks into the program.

The show was unlike any network television had ever seen. Many conservatives, among them President Richard Nixon, voiced their opinion that CBS was mocking a fine, hardworking, American male. Although ratings were initially less than stellar, O'Connor was brilliant in the role of Bunker. Soon enough, the series gained in popularity, and by the start of the second season, it was the number one show on television, a spot it would not relinquish for the next six years.

For his part, O'Connor's views and mannerisms could not have been any more distant from Archie's. In one interview, he stated that his own father referred to Archie's type of language as "low brow" and heavily discouraged it. He also reflected on the early days of the series, when he wondered if it would even stay on the air. "I thought," he would later recall, "that the American public was too dour to laugh at itself."

With a supporting cast that included Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, Sally Struthers, and a host of talented writers, "All in the Family" was a powerhouse for many years before the staff decided it was time to leave the airwaves. O'Connor left with several Emmy awards to his credit. The chairs used by the characters of Archie and Edith Bunker in the series "All in the Family" are now in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.

In 1987, O'Connor was hired to play the role of Sherriff William O. Gillespie in the TV version of "In the Heat of The Night". Based upon the 1967 movie, it revolved around a black homicide detective (played by Howard Rollins) working in the small town of Sparta, Mississippi. O'Connor's acting prowess landed him another Emmy award and showed viewers that he could handle drama as well as comedy.

In 1990, O'Connor was inducted into the television Hall of Fame for his work. He has continued to act in movies in recent years. He also gained notoriety in the mid-1990s when his son Hugh committed suicide after being addicted to drugs for many years. He recently wrote his autobiography, entitled "I Think I'm Outta Here."

He lives in Malibu, California, with his wife Nancy.

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