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Carroll O’Connor’s Only Son Was in Mortal Danger 27 Years before He Took His Own Life

Christell Fatima M. Tudtud
Nov 12, 2021
11:40 P.M.

Late actors Carroll O'Connor and Larry Hagman's sons found themselves in great danger 27 years ago on Malibu beach. While the near-death ordeal of their sons tested their role as fathers, it also helped solidify the actors' long-lasting friendship.

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Acclaimed actors Larry Hagman and Carroll O'Connor's close relationship lasted for over two decades. Hagman shot to stardom for playing Major Anthony Nelson in the 1965-1970 sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie."

Meanwhile, O'Connor found widespread fame as Archie Bunker, the main character in the CBS television sitcom "All in the Family" and its spinoff series, "Archie Bunker's Place."

Left: Hugh O'Connor squeezes his father, Carroll O'Connor's cheek in March 1995. Right: Larry Hagman and Carroll O'Connor smiles for a picture during the Spago closing party in West Hollywood, California in March 2001. | Photo: Getty Images

Left: Hugh O'Connor squeezes his father, Carroll O'Connor's cheek in March 1995. Right: Larry Hagman and Carroll O'Connor smiles for a picture during the Spago closing party in West Hollywood, California in March 2001. | Photo: Getty Images

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THE ACTORS' HUMBLE START

Before their Hollywood fame, both actors started a career in theater. O'Connor was an assistant stage manager for a Broadway show in which Hagman appeared. In a past CNN interview, he said of the late O'Connor:

"He was a nice guy, and a wonderful friend for 42 years."

They became friends at the Terrain Hotel in Boston. Hagman recalled how O'Connor used to come over to his New York apartment when humble beginnings had him living in a cold-water flat.

Carroll O'Connor at the Los Angeles premiere of the movie "Return to Me" in Century City, California, April 3, 2000. | Photo: Getty Images

Carroll O'Connor at the Los Angeles premiere of the movie "Return to Me" in Century City, California, April 3, 2000. | Photo: Getty Images

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O'Connor lived two blocks away from Hagman's 10-room home with three bathrooms with hot water. Since O'Connor lived in a cold-water flat, he would come over to Hagman's place on Saturdays.

Hagman's whole family eventually moved to Malibu from New York.

The "Return to Me" actor would take a warm bath, have dinner with Hagman, and look after Hagman's little daughter, Heidi. The little girl was Hagman's daughter with his Swedish wife, Maj Axelsson.

Larry Hagman smiles during a studio portrait session in Los Angeles, California in 1982. | Photo: Getty Images

Larry Hagman smiles during a studio portrait session in Los Angeles, California in 1982. | Photo: Getty Images

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As Hagman and Axelsson lived in their New York home, Hagman's accountant suggested they buy and look for a house in Beverly Hills. The couple, who also share a son Preston, lived frugally.

The pair's frugality led them to save over $15,000. In his "Hello Darlin'" memoir, Hagman stated that since he worked so often, he and his wife did not have the time to live or spend lavishly.

Axelsson told Hagman they should live in Malibu since it was her dream to live in that place. They found a large, pink asbestos-sided house at a beach in Malibu Colony worth $115,000.

Larry Hagman attends the launch party for the new Channel 5 television series of "Dallas" at Old Billingsgate on August 21, 2012 in London, England. | Photo: Getty Images

Larry Hagman attends the launch party for the new Channel 5 television series of "Dallas" at Old Billingsgate on August 21, 2012 in London, England. | Photo: Getty Images

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FROM NEW YORK TO MALIBU

Hagman documented his family's journey to a new home in his memoir. The couple put down $15,000 for the beautiful house, their largest expenditure at the time.

Hagman's whole family eventually moved to Malibu from New York. As their first candlelight dinner at home, they ate a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on paper plates on the floor.

A few weeks later, O'Connor and his wife, Nancy, brought their only adopted son, Hugh, along for a visit. Hagman's son Preston played with toy trucks on the sand with Hugh. Both boys were six years old.

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A PLANE'S SUDDEN LANDING

While watching their sons play on the sand, Hagman shared to O'Connor how fortunate he was to live in a safe community. But at that moment, a plane took an emergency landing on the beach out of nowhere. Hagman's memoir read:

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"It came so close the boys were sprayed with wet sand from the wheels."

Hagman stated that he and O'Connor were horrified when the plane crashed on the beach, barely missing their little boys. It was a pre-World War II aircraft with a single-engine and an open cockpit.

Carroll O'Connor posing as Archie Bunker in 1971 TV series "All in the Family." | Photo: Getty Images

Carroll O'Connor posing as Archie Bunker in 1971 TV series "All in the Family." | Photo: Getty Images

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After the worried fathers ran towards their sons, O'Connor and Hagman found the plane buried in the sand. A pilot came out of the cockpit unharmed yet disappointed in the way his plane landed.

The disgruntled pilot saw the actors nearby with their boys and yelled at them, saying he could have landed his plane perfectly if the kids were not playing in the sand.

O'Connor was offended by what the pilot said and felt angry. Hagman stated that he had to "physically restrain" the furious actor from attacking and beating the pilot.

 Larry Hagman graces the "Dallas" premiere screening hosted by TNT and Warner Horizon on May 31, 2012 in Winspear Opera House on May 31, 2012 in Dallas, Texas. | Photo: Getty Images

Larry Hagman graces the "Dallas" premiere screening hosted by TNT and Warner Horizon on May 31, 2012 in Winspear Opera House on May 31, 2012 in Dallas, Texas. | Photo: Getty Images

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O'CONNOR'S UNEXPECTED LOSS

Since that near-death incident of their sons, Hagman and O'Connor's friendship solidified. Throughout their bond, they shared ups and downs, as well as dark emotional bottoms.

After 27 years since the plane crashed on the sand, O'Connor's son, Hugh, who became an actor, took his own life in 1995. He suffered a gunshot wound on his head. His son was 33.

Carroll O'Connor pictured in July 1983 in New York. | Photo: Getty Images

Carroll O'Connor pictured in July 1983 in New York. | Photo: Getty Images

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FINDING PURPOSE AFTER A NIGHTMARE

The young actor was addicted to various drugs, including cocaine, for 16 years. Hugh's death was difficult for O'Connor to bear as he was the last person his son called before taking his own life.

During O'Connor's last phone call with Hugh, the latter's final words were: "So long, pop." The doting dad broke down, as his son's tragic death was his worst nightmare.

He blamed songwriter Harry Perzigian for supplying Hugh with cocaine, but the musician denied it. Since his son's death, the emotional father became a staunch crusader against drugs.

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Advocating against drugs was cathartic for O'Connor as he found a new purpose after his son's death. He became a long-time advocate for the Drug Dealer Liability Act.

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The act, also known as Hugh O'Connor Memorial Law, has allowed victims to sue drug dealers who cause their deaths. Several states, including California, enacted the law in 1997.

O'CONNOR'S DEATH

As time progressed, O'Connor's life slowed down and eventually passed away in 2001, after a heart attack. He was 76. He left many fans, Hagman, and the "All in the Family" stars heartbroken.

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Jean Stapleton, who played O'Connor's on-screen wife Edith Bunker in the classic TV series, described her co-star as one of the finest and versatile actors in the country.

O'Connor won five Emmy awards during his extensive career - four as Archie Bunker and one as the police chief in another popular TV series, "In the Heat of the Night."

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Meanwhile, Hagman described O'Connor as a problem solver, a giver, and mentor for 40 years. Eleven years after his friend died, Hagman passed away in 2012 from myelodysplastic syndrome due to throat cancer treatments.

Hagman was 81. His death happened when he became a part of the cast in the second season of rebooted "Dallas" TV series. He previously appeared in the same drama series in 1978.

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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