Biography of Carroll O'Connor, TV's Archie Bunker

Carroll O'Connor
Silver Screen Collection / Moviepix / Getty Images

Carroll O'Connor (born John Carroll O'Connor; August 2, 1924 - June 21, 2001) gained fame through his portrayal of the character Archie Bunker on the landmark 1970s sitcom All in the Family.

Fast Facts: Carroll O'Connor

  • Occupation: Actor
  • Known For: The role of Archie Bunker in the 1970s sitcom All in the Family
  • Born: August 2, 1924 in New York, New York
  • Died:  June 21, 2001 in Culver City, California
  • Education: University College Dublin and University of Montana–Missoula
  • Key Accomplishment: 4 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for All in the Family
  • Famous Quote: "Even a true artist does not always produce art."

Early Life

Born in Manhattan, Carroll O'Connor was the oldest of three sons. For most of his early life, his family lived in the borough of Queens—which later served as the fictional home of Archie Bunker.

Carroll O'Connor dropped out of Wake Forest University to enlist in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. After the war, he attended the University of Montana–Missoula and completed his studies at the University College Dublin, where his brother Hugh attended medical school. O'Connor later returned to the University of Montana to earn a master's degree in speech.

Character Actor

O'Connor acted in theatrical productions in both Dublin, Ireland, and New York City during the 1950s. Throughout the 1960s, he appeared as a character actor, taking guest roles in a wide range of TV series including Mission Impossible, I Spy, Gunsmoke, and The Fugitive.

O'Connor also auditioned for regular parts in other TV series. Producers considered him for the role of Skipper on Gilligan's Island and Dr. Smith on Lost in Space.

All in the Family

In 1968, O'Connor was asked by producer Norman Lear to return to New York to be the star of a new TV pilot called Justice for All. In the pilot, O'Connor's character was a "lovable bigot" named Archie Justice. Three pilots, two years, and a network change later, the character transformed into Archie Bunker, and the show was All in the Family.

Lear originally wanted the better-known Jackie Gleason or Mickey Rooney to be the star, but both actors turned him down, and O'Connor accepted, expecting the show to fail.

However, All in the Family did not fail. The sitcom became a hit, earning top ratings for five years in a row. The show lasted from 1971 to 1979, and a sequel series called Archie Bunker's Place followed from 1979 through 1983. O'Connor earned eight Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for All in the Family, and he won four times.

In the Heat of the Night and Later Career

Five years after the cancellation of Archie Bunker's Place, Carroll O'Connor took on the role of tough police chief Bill Gillespie in the drama series In the Heat of the Night, which was based on the 1967 movie of the same name. The show lasted for seven seasons and was a rating success, appearing in the top 20 for the first three seasons.

O'Connor earned an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1989 for In the Heat of the Night. He made his final TV appearance in the role of Gust Stemple in the late 1990s comedy series Mad About You. In the year 2000, he earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

On June 21, 2001, Carroll O'Connor died from a heart attack brought on by complications of diabetes.

Source

  • O'Connor, Carroll. I Think I'm Outta Here: A Memoir. Simon & Schuster, 1998.