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November 13, 2021

Closer Weekly: Carroll O’Connor Became Fatherless Sally Struthers' Dad & Then Lost His Only Son

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"All in the Family" gave Actress Sally Struthers more than worldwide fame and two Emmy Awards. Her co-star Carroll O'Connor became her much-needed father figure in addition to the recognition.

It's been over five decades since Sally Struthers portrayed Gloria Stivic in "All in the Family," but she still receives kind words from fans for her performance.

Struthers's chemistry with her on-screen dad, Carroll O'Connor, is one of the elements that made the show so loved. She once confessed that O'Connor, who lost his adopted son in the mid-1990s, became her father figure.

Sally Struthers as Gloria Bunker-Stivic and Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker in "All in the Family" on September 23, 1977 | Photo: Getty Images

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BOOKING THE PART

Before working in "All in the Family," Struthers was unknown in the entertainment industry. She had minor roles in a couple of films and appeared in "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" and the "Tim Conway Comedy Hour." 

After her fifth participation in the "Tim Conway Comedy Hour," the executives supposed she made the show look cheap, so she was fired. Given that she was in her early 20s, she didn't know what would happen to her career.

Sally Struthers on November 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images

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Fortunately, Struthers followed her heart and read for "All in the Family" creator Norman Lear even though he was still unknown in Hollywood. Getting the part wasn't a walk in the park, though.

If making a good first impression wasn't hard enough, she had laryngitis at the time of her audition and was supposed to do a yelling scene. The raspiness in her voice (caused by the illness) probably made Lear remember her, the actress confessed.

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A while later, only four actresses were fighting for the role of Gloria. One of them was Penny Marshall, the then-girlfriend of Rob Reiner (who had already been cast as Michael Stivic).

Knowing that Reiner and Marshall were dating, Struthers believed casting directors had already decided, and she wouldn't stand a chance. That thought resulted in fewer nerves, causing her to audition with complete confidence, and she got the part.

[O'Connor] introduced her to William Rader, the man she was married to for six years.

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RELATIONSHIP WITH CARROLL O'CONNOR

While Struthers didn't get much to say during her first five years on the show, she and the rest of the cast got along "beautifully." She revealed that O'Connor and Jean Stapleton (her on-screen mom) had previously shot two pilots with two different sets of kids. 

However, they only got the right chemistry with Reiner and Struthers. Given that they all revered each other and considered it the perfect casting, they didn't compete with one another.

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The person Struthers got along best with was O'Connor. She saw him as a second father, especially because her real-life dad passed away in 1968, three years before "All in the Family's" debut. She explained

"I was still feeling bad and fatherless when I got this show. Carroll and his wife, Nancy, turned out to be as parental with me as he was in the show."

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The actress revealed that O'Connor would give her advice, laugh at her antics, and hug her whenever he had the chance. Their connection became even more special after he introduced her to William Rader, the man she was married to for six years.

Struthers and O'Connor's relationship was so great that she admitted she gained another father by doing "All in the Family." That was probably one of the reasons why filming the last episode was so emotional.

According to Struthers, it was not necessarily sad at the time because she didn't know how much she would miss it. Now, Struthers stops to watch every time she sees an episode on TV, but when O'Connor or Stapleton appears, she gets so sad she changes the channel.

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HARDSHIPS IN O'CONNOR'S LIFE

Like Struthers, O'Connor was a fairly unknown actor before portraying Archie Bunker in "All in the Family." After the show, he starred in the spin-off "Archie Bunker's Place" and the crime-drama TV show "In the Heat of the Night."

In March 1995, when O'Connor was 70, he took a devastating blow when his adopted son, Hugh, died by suicide. The actor confessed his son had been addicted to drugs and other substances for over a decade. 

For years, Struthers has also been a spokesperson for ChildFund.

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Hugh's wife, Angela Clayton, eventually revealed that he passed away on their third wedding anniversary. She said she called her son to check on him, but he wasn't doing okay.

Apart from hallucinating, Hugh kept thinking their conversation was broadcast over the neighborhood. He then called O'Connor to tell him he would kill himself, so the actor contacted the police to report his son's suicidal thoughts, but it was too late.

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O'Connor named Harry Thomas Perzigian his son's "partner in murder," given that he had been sharing drugs with Hugh. Perzigian spent one year behind bars for possession and furnishing of cocaine.

Losing his son was heartbreaking, but it gave O'Connor purpose as he became a vocal advocate for the Drug Dealer Liability Act. It allows people to sue narcotic pushers who cause users' deaths. 

It has been in effect in California since 1997, but other states have also adopted it over the years. At the moment, it is known as the Hugh O'Connor Memorial Law.

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STRUTHERS' LIFE AFTER THE SHOW

After "All in the Family," Struthers kept booking parts on different TV shows and films. Apart from reprising her character in "Archie Bunker's Place" and "Gloria," she worked in the "Nine to Five" sitcom in the '80s.

The actress also portrayed Barbette Dell in "Gilmore Girls," which brought her worldwide fame. As per her love life, she had one daughter with William Rader before divorcing in 1983.

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For years, Struthers has also been a spokesperson for ChildFund and represented the International Correspondence School between the late 1900s and early 2000s.

It's been a few years since Struthers's fans saw her in front of the cameras, but at 74, she is probably working on a much-desired comeback, and we cannot wait! As per O'Connor, he passed away in 2001 from a heart attack. Rest in peace, legend.

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.

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