Carroll O'Connor enjoyed life in the spotlight after starring in the 1970s television series "All in the Family," but what a lot of people don't know is that he suffered a personal tragedy after losing his son.
Actor Carroll O'Connor was born in Manhattan, New York, and raised in Forest Hills, which was a heavily Jewish community in Queens, New York. In 1942, he joined the Merchant Marines and worked on ships in the Atlantic.
In 1946, he studied English at the University of Montana. It was there that he started being interested in theaters. While he was on one of his amateur productions, he met his future wife, Nancy Fields, whom he married in 1951.
Carroll O'Connor in a suit and tie; circa 1970 in New York. (L), Carroll O'Connor laughs as his son Hugh squeezes his cheek circa the 1990s. | Photo: Getty Images
HIS LIFE WITH HUGH
That same year, the couple adopted their only son Hugh. They took him home from Rome and stayed by their son's side when he battled Hodgkin's disease at the age of 16.
While Hugh battled the illness, he became addicted to drugs. O'Connor never gave up on his son, even employing him as a courier on the "All in the Family" set before casting him in a regular role for his other project titled "In the Heat of the Night."
Portrait of Carroll O'Connor taken in 1973. | Source: Getty Images.
LOVING HIS SON UNCONDITIONALLY
Through the years, O'Connor tried to save his son from living a life of addiction. In fact, everybody that knew the family knew just how much the actor loved his son. "In the Heat of the Night" actress Denise Nicholas once said:
"Caroll loved Hugh. He tried to save him from drugs. Hugh's death broke his heart. I can barely talk about it without crying."
Carroll O'Connor on March 17, 2000 in Hollywood, California | Photo: Getty Images
A TRAGIC END
Unfortunately, Hugh had been feeling depressed and threatened to end his own life. After finding out about this and realizing that his son had weapons with him, O'Connor called the police to rush to Hugh's home.
While the police rushed to the scene, it was too late when they got there. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot, and he left behind a note.
Carroll O'Connor in Century City, California, April 3, 2000. | Source: Getty Images.
THE FAMILY HE LEFT BEHIND
"I called him, it was our wedding anniversary, and I wanted to see how he was doing," Hugh's wife Angela said. She and their son had been living with O'Connor for a few weeks before his death as he was not himself.
"He was hallucinating, thinking our conversation was being broadcast over the neighborhood," Angela said of their last conversation shortly before his death.
SUING HIS DRUG DEALER
Late in March 1995, police arrested Harry Perzigian, who O'Connor identified as Hugh's drug dealer and whom he blamed for his death.
Perzigian admitted that he shared cocaine with Hugh for many years but denied that he ever sold drugs to him for profit. Possession and furnishing Hugh with cocaine landed Perzigian in prison for a short time, but he filed a slander lawsuit against O'Connor, which he lost in 1997.
Carroll O'Connor on March 17, 2000. | Source: Getty Images.
O'CONNOR ON HIS SON'S DEATH
O'Connor had a difficult time after the loss of his son. What made things even worse was that his son ended their call with the words: "So long, Pop." During an interview with "Larry King Live" in July 1997, he said:
"I can't forget it. There isn't a day that I don't think of him and want him back and miss him, and I'll feel that way until I'm not here."
Hugh, also an actor, starred alongside his father in the television series "In the Heat of the Night" and left behind his wife Angela and their son, Sean, at only two years old.
Shortly after Hugh's death, O'Connor started a restoration shop called "Carroll O'Connor's Classics" that restored everything from American land yachts to classic sports cars in honor of Hugh's passion for the trade.
Carroll O'Connor in California in 1979 | Source: Getty Images.
PAYING TRIBUTE TO HUGH
Speaking about pushing through with a passion that both he and his son shared, the "Archie Bunker's Place" star told Motortrend in August 1997:
“So when he killed himself, I asked myself if I should go on with this or let it go. And I could hear him saying, ‘Go on, Pops, do it, do it. Do the classics.'"
USING HIS INFLUENCE FOR GOOD
Additionally, O'Connor and his wife, Nancy, also became active in social charities and their grandson Sean's life. They paid a pivotal role in the Drug Dealer Liability Act, which allows people to sue drug dealers who cause the death of users.
He was a vocal advocate for the law, and it took effect in California in 1997. It has since been adopted in several other states and is known as the Hugh O'Connor Memorial Law.
In 2001, Carroll O'Connor passed away at the age of 76. He suffered a heart attack and was given a traditional Roman Catholic funeral which consisted of a mass and a short program afterward.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "help" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.