Carroll O'Connor, whose portrayal of irascible bigot Archie Bunker on ``All in the Family'' helped make the groundbreaking TV comedy part of the American dialogue on race and politics, died of a heart attack on June 21, 2001. He was 76.|
O'Connor collapsed at his home and was taken to Brotman Medical Center, publicist Frank Tobin said. He said O'Connor died with his wife of nearly 50 years, Nancy, by his side.
The actor had diabetes and had undergone coronary artery 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 native of New York, O'Connor had been working for two decades on stage and in TV and movie supporting parts when he was tapped by producer Norman Lear to play a blue-collar worker from New York's borough of Queens with the gift of gab and a big chip on his shoulder.
On Jan. 12, 1971, Archie began spouting off against minorities, liberals and his long-haired son-in-law (whom he called ``Meathead'') and kept at it for 13 years. O'Connor didn't flinch at playing an unlikeable character and deftly brought Archie's intolerance to feisty comic life.
``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.''
The actor also managed to give Archie a vulnerability that allowed him to be seen as a beleaguered soul, bound by his unthinking prejudices and buffeted by the changes sweeping Vietnam War-era America.
Further softening the character was his love for wife Edith (Jean Stapleton), lovingly known as ``Dingbat,'' and their daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers), and his grudging affection for Meathead Mike (Rob Reiner).
``He didn't ever go for the easy laugh,'' recalled Reiner. ``It was always important for him to maintain the integrity of the characters the honesty and the reality of the characters.''
``All in the Family,'' adapted from the British series ``Till Death Do Us Part,'' shattered the sitcom mold that had produced decades of superficial and bland series featuring, invariably, a wise and kindly paternal figure.
Lear considered other actors for the pivotal role of Archie, but said he found the right combination of ``bombast and sweetness'' in O'Connor, whom he had seen in the film ``What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?''
The sitcom got off to a rocky start. Many found it unsettling and offensive, and tuned it out. Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint called the show's bigotry ``dangerous because it's disarming.''
Eventually, however, viewers came to embrace Archie and the series as a comedy and a source of debate. It 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.''
The show was such a powerful cultural influence that the Smithsonian Institution (news - web sites) in Washington commemorated the program by displaying the living room chairs used by Archie and Edith.
O'Connor moved from ``All in the Family'' (1971-79) to ``Archie Bunker's Place'' (1979-83), which was based in a bar owned by Archie rather than in the Bunker household.
The actor put his controversial character in perspective.
``I have a great deal of sympathy for him,'' O'Connor said of Archie in a 1986 Playboy magazine interview. ``As James Baldwin wrote, the white man here is trapped by his own history, a history that he himself cannot comprehend and therefore what can I do but love him?''
O'Connor and his two brothers were raised by their father, an attorney, and schoolteacher mother in the New York City neighborhood of Forest Hills, a more prosperous section of Queens than Archie would ever know. O'Connor grew up in a life of financial comfort and social tolerance.
``I never heard Archie's kind of talk in my own family,'' he once said. ``My father was a lawyer and was in partnership with two Jews, who with their families were close to us. There were black families in our circle of friends. My father disliked talk like Archie's - he called it lowbrow.''
O'Connor served as a merchant seaman in World War II, enrolling at the University of Montana on his return. Although both his siblings became physicians, O'Connor studied literature and discovered acting.
He met his future wife, Nancy Fields, while appearing in a play.
Captivated by Ireland during a visit in 1950, O'Connor finished his undergraduate studies at the National University of Ireland. Fields joined him and they were married in Dublin in 1951.
O'Connor appeared on stage throughout Ireland and in London, Paris and Edinburgh. Making it in New York proved to be a struggle. He worked as a substitute teacher, earned his master's degree at Montana and, in the late 1950s, finally began getting roles in theater and film.
``Lonely Are the Brave'' and ``Cleopatra'' (both 1963), ``Hawaii'' (1966) and ``Point Blank'' (1967) were among the movies in which he appeared.
Then ``All in the Family'' made him a star and, eventually, a four-time Emmy winner.
``Today's public recognition is something I never wished for or even cared about,'' he said in 1971. ``But now that it is here, I find it wonderful, of course.''
He followed ``Archie's Place'' with a return to New York theater, then came back to TV series in 1988 with ``In the Heat of the Night,'' a police drama based on the Rod Steiger-Sidney Poitier film. O'Connor played Bill Gillespie, police chief of a small Mississippi town; Howard Rollins co-starred as detective Virgil Tibbs.
O'Connor continued with the series through health problems and a network change, from NBC to CBS. His son played a police officer on the show.
O'Connor, who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year, appeared in the 2000 romantic comedy ``Return to Me.''
The O'Connors adopted their son as an infant in 1962 in Italy, where O'Connor was filming ``Cleopatra.'' Hugh O'Connor battled a longtime alcohol and drug addiction problem.
On March 28, 1995, in several phone conversations, Hugh told his father ``this is a very black day,'' said he had a gun and was going to ``cap'' himself. O'Connor recalled telling him ``you're just saying crazy things'' and advising him to seek a doctor's care.
``So long, I love you,'' his son replied. O'Connor called police, who arrived just as Hugh O'Connor shot himself.
O'Connor turned his grief over the death of 32-year-old Hugh into an anti-drug crusade and a quest for legal vengeance against his son's drug supplier.
``Nothing will help,'' O'Connor said after the man was sentenced to a year in jail. ``Our lives have changed. My wife's and mine, and his widow.''
O'Connor was hospitalized in November at the UCLA Medical Center, where he had a toe amputated because of a circulatory problem related to diabetes.