Carroll O'Connor
June 21, 2001 7:01 PM   Subscribe

Carroll O'Connor dead at 76. Once asked what he thought of his character "Archie" he had an interesting response : "I have a great deal of sympathy for him, 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?"
posted by revbrian (14 comments total)
I didn't know that "He was the recipient of the 1990 and 1991 NAACP Image Award as producer of "In The Heat of The Night" for "Best Dramatic Television Series" for "Contributing positive portrayal s of African Americans in a prime time television series."

I also didn't know that the series originally aired with this disclaimer : "The program you are about to see is ALL IN THE FAMILY. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show, in a mature fashion, just how absurd they are"
posted by revbrian at 7:22 PM on June 21, 2001

They played an episode of All In The Family earlier today, on a channel and at a time when they normally do not. I didn't think much about it until now. I wonder if someone at that local station just thought to grab a tape and throw it in unannounced? The moment s/he learned of Carroll O'Connor's death? Pre-empting whatever else was to play at that time? That would have been fitting.

Admittedly, he did far more than the tv shows In The Heat of the Night and All In the Family, however his crown jewel of performances had to be Archie, and it's how I'll personally always remember him. It is quite difficult and rare for any actor to take a character filled with such hate and show him a vulnerable man with both strengths and weaknesses. Part of it was expert writing in a field that today suffers greatly from such a lack of depth. Still, O'Connor alone breathed Archie Bunker to life, and made him a modern tragic hero. His one flaw of bigotry was his Achilles' heel, but he still had a heart of gold. It is a proud, memorable legacy that he leaves behind.

Thank you for the laughs, Meathead.

His passing has hit most major American news or entertainment related websites on the 'Net, including the Washington Post, CNN, E! Online and the Washington Times. BBC hasn't announced it yet. I couldn't find anything at the Syndey Times Herald either. In fact worldwide the obituaries are focusing more on blues artist John Lee Hooker... Anybody here believe in that old superstition that famous people always die in threes?
posted by ZachsMind at 8:01 PM on June 21, 2001

His son, Hugh O'Connor, shot himself to death while under the influence of cocaine-induced hallucinations in 1995. Afterward, Carroll O'Connor went on to publicly call convicted drug dealer Harry Perzigian a "drug pusher" and "partner in murder" for supplying the drugs to his son.
Perzigian sued O'Connor for slander, and following a two-week trail, a jury unanimously absolved O'Connor of the offense.

Carroll made a public service commercial about getting your kids off drugs. I don't remember his exact words, but I was always touched by the sorrow and passion he somehow wrapped into that 15 seconds. He seemed like a good guy.
posted by stevis at 8:04 PM on June 21, 2001

He was a good guy, and he could sing too!
posted by davewiner at 8:51 PM on June 21, 2001

As much as I'd like to hand it to Carroll O'Connor for astutely stepping into his character, let us not forget that Norman Lear had the balls to fight and get All in the Family on television. And with top-notch writing to boot.

These days, it seems "edgy" television is marked by the number of times you say "shit" on national television, which is trivial compared to what O'Connor and Lear did back in the day.
posted by ed at 9:41 PM on June 21, 2001

Zachsmind - I'd wouldn't be surprised if the BBC doesn't carry the story. I don't think "All in the family" was ever shown in the UK. I'd heard the name "Archie Bunker" via the US media, and had some idea of the attitudes the name was associated with, but the first time I saw the show itself was about a month ago late at night on canadian TV. It was instantly recognizable as a US version of "Til Death Us Do Part". That show, and it's central character Alf Garnet (played by Warren Mitchell), was an institution in the UK in that generation - and "All in the family" wouldn't have stood a chance on British TV.
posted by pascal at 10:59 PM on June 21, 2001

It was shown for a while in the mid or late seventies (between the times when "Til Death..." finished and "In Sickness and In Health" - essentially the same show for the 80s - started), and I think a couple of the spin-off shows were picked up by ITV.

It would be interesting to compare and contrast the shows, it would probably tell us more than we wanted to know about the differences between American and British culture.

And, for what it's worth, a number of 70s US comedy shows were versions of British series - for example, Three's Company was originally Man About the House and Sandford and Son was originally Steptoe and Son (the one series where I'd say the original was immeasurably better than the imitation).

You knew that already, but I thought I should point it out.
posted by Grangousier at 12:32 AM on June 22, 2001

A few years back Bill Cosby tried to do a show after all the Huxtable children grew up. In the new show, his name was Hilton Lucas, and I remember reading somewhere that it was an americanization of a UK program called One Foot in the Grave. This is a common repeating motif in american television. In fact some reports claimed that NBC's Saturday Night Live, which has been a staple of american television since 1975, was loosely based off Monty Python's Flying Circus, though I don't know if Lorne Michaels would admit to it today.

The thing about All In The Family, which would have made it different from Til Death Us Do Part, is how Carroll O'Connor and the other show regulars portrayed their roles. There's a very american twist to AITF, which is most noticable regarding the political arguments between Archie and Meathead. Perhaps that, more than anything else, would have killed it in the UK.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:37 AM on June 22, 2001

The converse is true, also - I remember an American friend finding In Sickness... unwatchable because it was (her words) "too realistic". Obviously, the East End of London wasn't Indiana, but there was a desperation to the characters and the situations that seemed more like real life.

I think there's enough credit in the world that O'Connor and Lear have their fair share alongside Mitchell and Speight.

However, by all accounts, the Cosby "One Foot..." was terrible and missed the fundamental point of the BBC series.

(and ITV tried to do direct transliterations of "The Golden Girls". "Married With Children" and "That 70s Show" which were all very very terrible indeed)
posted by Grangousier at 7:06 AM on June 22, 2001

There's a very american twist to AITF, which is most noticable regarding the political arguments between Archie and Meathead. Perhaps that, more than anything else, would have killed it in the UK.

You know that the equivalent character to Meathead in Till Death Us Do Part -- the left-wing "Scouse git" -- was played by Tony Booth, whose daughter happens to be married to the Prime Minister? And that he's causing as much trouble for his real son-in-law as he did for his TV father-in-law?

It's also intriguing that one of Warren Mitchell's most famous stage roles is that other American Everyman: Willy Loman, in Death of a Salesman.
posted by holgate at 7:14 AM on June 22, 2001

Only in America could someone be described positively as a "soft-hearted bigot".

One of the unintended consequences of the success of AITF that surprised everyone was how many people really identified with Archie and his remarks, even though Lear's clear intent was to set him up as a blowhard who could be knocked down by his family. Archie in the first season or two of the series has a much harder edge, is far less sympathetic, uses a lot of racial epithets, etc. Once the show became a phenomenon, most of the racist language was dropped and Archie became "gruff-but-lovable."

The immediate impact of AITF was obvious -- it generated three spinoffs of its own (Maude, The Jeffersons, and Good Times, which was actually a spinoff of Maude) and made controversial topics fodder for even the most innocuous sitcom (anybody remember when Mary on the Mary Tyler Moore show accidentally told her mother she was on "the pill"?).

After the initial hoo-hah, though, AITF settled into being a fairly mainstream sitcom with the occasional flair for excellence. Its "social impact" (if such a thing can be measured) was to legitimize people like Archie Bunker by making him socially acceptable, in the way that television nearly always tends to soft-peddle even the worst people. Americans didn't want to be told they were bigoted, they wanted to be loved for it, and Archie was their icon.
posted by briank at 7:33 AM on June 22, 2001

Archie was a buffoon. The fact that O'Connor gave him redeeming qualities in addition to his shortcomings made him a more credible and effective character.
posted by websavvy at 7:44 AM on June 22, 2001

"You and that Reverand Bleedin' Heart Felcher up there in his ivory shower" -Archie Bunker.
posted by clavdivs at 8:28 AM on June 22, 2001

Forget Carrol O'Connor- the fact that James Baldwin could make such a statement as quoted by Carroll O'Connor makes me forgive the fact that he has a career ERA over 5.00...
posted by hincandenza at 6:46 PM on June 22, 2001

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