Richard Gilliland, 'Designing Women' Actor and Jean Smart's Husband of 33 Years, Dies at 71

Joe Akins
Mar 26, 2021
11:30 A.M.
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"Designing Women" actor and Jean Smart's husband of 33 years Richard Gilliland died at 71 after a brief illness. Here is a look into his life and death.


On Thursday, a publicist announced that "Designing Women" actor Richard Gilliland died on March 18 in Los Angeles after a brief illness. He was 71-years-old. 

Besides his recurring role in "Designing Women," Gilliland starred on NBC's "McMillan & Wife," where he portrayed Seargent Steve DiMaggio's character. 

Jean Smart and Richard Gilliland arrive at the premiere of National Geographic Documentary Films' 'Jane' at the Hollywood Bowl on October 9, 2017 | Photo: Getty Images


He also portrayed Lieutenant Nick Holden on ABC's adaptation of "Operation Petticoat" in 1977-1978. Also, he appeared as a regular on the network's series "Just Our Luck" in 1983 and CBC's "Heartland" in 1989.

It was in "Designing Women" that Gilliland met his wife and Emmy winner Jean Smart. He arrived in the series' first season as J.D. Shackelford, Mary Jo Shively's boyfriend. Actress Annie Potts portrayed Shively's character. 


Gilliland went on to work on 17 "Designer Women" episodes through 1991. Smart had previously recalled how they met, revealing that she met him when he was kissing someone else during a reported interview. 

Smart did some investigation to find out if he was married. Gilliland and Smart hit it off instantly after she lured him to her dressing room to help her with a crossword puzzle. 

They were billed to work together again in the summer in a Tate Taylor-directed movie before Gilliland's death.


The lovebirds tied the knot in June 1987. Their wedding was held in the cast member Dixie Carter's rose garden, which she shared with Hal Holbrook. 

Gilliland and Smart share two children, a son Connor, 31, and an adopted daughter, Bonnie ("Ani"), who will turn 12 in May. Besides "Designing Women," Gilliland and Smart worked together in the stage productions "Love Letters" and "It Had to Be You."


They also starred in the television series "24" and television movies "Just My Imagination" and "Audrey's Rain." They were billed to work together again in the summer in a Tate Taylor-directed movie before Gilliland's death.

Since his passing, tributes have poured in from his colleagues. Potts shared a picture of herself, Gilliland, and Smart on set and captioned it, "Sweet Richard. You are missed already." 

She concluded by asking him to say hello to their departed friends, including Carter and Holbrook. "Criminal Minds" star Joe Mantegna also shared a throwback photo of himself and Gilliland in a tweet and reflected on their friendship of 50 years.