O'Connor, an Irish Catholic American, was the eldest of three sons born in Manhattan, New York to Elise Patricia and Edward Joseph O'Connor, who was a New York City lawyer. Both of his brothers were doctors; Hugh, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1961, and Robert, a psychiatrist in New York City. O'Connor spent much of his youth in Elmhurst and Forest Hills, Queens, in the same borough in which his character Archie Bunker would later live. During World War II he was rejected by the United States Navy and instead enrolled in the United States Merchant Marine Academy for a short time. However, he left that institution and became a merchant seaman.
O'Connor attended the University of Montana-Missoula, where he met Nancy Fields, who would later become his wife. At the U of M, O'Connor joined Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. At that time, however, O'Connor did not take any drama courses as an undergraduate. O'Connor later left U of M to help his younger brother Hugh get into medical school in Ireland, where he completed his studies at the University College Dublin. It was there that he began acting in Theatre.
After she graduated from the University of Montana in 1951 with degrees in drama and English, O'Connor's fiancée, Nancy, sailed to Ireland to meet O'Connor  and the couple was married there on July 28, 1951. In 1956, O'Connor returned to Missoula to earn a master's degree in speech.
Prolific character actor
O'Connor made his acting debut as a character actor on two episodes of Sunday Showcase. These two parts led to other roles such as: Gunsmoke, The Eleventh Hour, I Spy, Bonanza, The Fugitive, The Wild Wild West, Armstrong Circle Theatre, The Americans, Death Valley Days, Alcoa Premiere, The Eleventh Hour, The Great Adventure, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Slattery's People, Dr. Kildare, That Girl, Premiere, among many others. During his later career, he guest-starred on Mad About You, alongside veteran television personality Carol Burnett.
He was also among the actors considered for the roles of The Skipper on Gilligan's Island and Dr. Smith in the TV show Lost In Space, as well as being the visual template in the creation of Batman foe Rupert Thorne, a character who debuted at the height of All in the Family's success in Detective Comics #469 (published May 1976 by DC Comics).
All in the Family
O'Connor was living in Italy in 1968 when producer Norman Lear first asked him to come to New York to star in a pilot he was creating for ABC called Justice For All, inspired by the popular BBC series Til Death Us Do Part, playing Archie Justice, a loveable yet controversial bigot. After three pilots done between 1968 to 1970, a network change to CBS, and the last name of the character changed to Bunker, the new sitcom was renamed All in the Family. It has been stated that O'Connor's Queens background and New York accent influenced Lear to set the show in Queens.
Wanting a well-known actor to tackle the controversial material, Lear had approached Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney to play Archie; both declined. O'Connor accepted, not expecting the show to be a success and believing he would be able to move back to Europe. (In her book Archie & Edith, Mike & Gloria: the Tumultuous History of All in the Family, Donna McCrohan noted that O'Connor requested that Lear provide him with a return airline ticket to Rome as a condition of his accepting the role, so that he could return to Italy when the show failed.) Instead, the show became the highest-rated television program on American television for five consecutive seasons until the 1976-1977 season (the sixth season). The Cosby Show has since met the record set by All in the Family.
O'Connor's own politics were liberal, but he understood the Bunker character and played him not only with bombast and humor but with touches of vulnerability. The writing on the show was consistently left of center, but O'Connor often deftly skewered the liberal pieties of the day. The result is widely considered to be an absorbing, entertaining television show. All in the Family was based on the BBC show Til Death Us Do Part, with Bunker based on Alf Garnett, but somewhat less abrasive.
Although Bunker was famous for his malapropisms of the English language, O'Connor was highly educated and cultured and was an English teacher before he turned to acting.
The show also starred a Broadway actress, also from New York City, Jean Stapleton, in the role of Archie Bunker's long-suffering wife, Edith Bunker, after Lear saw her in the play Damn Yankees. The producer sent the show over to ABC twice, but it didn't get picked up. They then approached CBS with more success, and accordingly, All in the Family was retooled and debuted early in 1971. The show also starred unknown character actors, such as Rob Reiner as Archie's liberal son-in-law, Michael "Meathead" Stivic and Sally Struthers as Archie's only daughter and Meathead's wife, Gloria Bunker-Stivic. The cast had a unique on- and off-camera chemistry, especially Reiner, who became O'Connor's best friend and favorite actor.
CBS was unsure whether the controversial subject matter of All in the Family would fit well into a sitcom. Racial issues, ethnicities, religions, and other timely topics were addressed. Thought-provoking, well-written, and well-cast, the show transformed the formerly inane sitcom format into something with dramatic social substance, becoming an enormous hit along the way. Archie Bunker's popularity made O'Connor a top-billing star of the 1970s. O'Connor was afraid of being typecast for playing such a popular and distinctive character. At the same time, he was protective of not just his character, but of the entire show.
A contract dispute between O'Connor and Lear marred the beginning of the show's fifth season. Eventually, O'Connor got a raise and appeared in the series until it ended. For his work as Archie Bunker, he was nominated for eight Emmy Awards as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series; he won the award four times (1972, 1977, 1978, and 1979).
At the end of the eighth season in 1978, Reiner and Struthers left the series to pursue other projects, but O'Connor and Stapleton still had one year left on their contracts. At the start of the final year, the show cast a child actress, Danielle Brisebois, in the role of Archie's and Edith's niece, Stephanie Mills. The series was finally cancelled in 1979 after nine seasons and 210 episodes.
O'Connor reprised his role as Archie Bunker in the spin-off show Archie Bunker's Place. Longtime friend and original series star Jean Stapleton reprised her role as Edith Bunker, but her screen time was limited. Her character died of a stroke, leaving Archie to cope with the loss. Danielle Brisebois played Stephanie Mills, Archie's niece in the series. The show was a hit, but not as big as its parent show. The show was unexpectedly cancelled in 1983, after 97 episodes, and O'Connor was not very happy that the show didn't have an appropriate series finale. All told, he played Archie Bunker for 13 years in a total of exactly 300 episodes.
In the Heat of the Night
While coping with his son's drug problem, O'Connor starred as Chief Officer Bill Gillespie, a tough veteran Mississippi cop on In the Heat of the Night. Based on the 1967 movie of the same name, the series debuted on NBC early in 1988, and it was a ratings powerhouse every Tuesday evening. O'Connor's son, Hugh O'Connor, was cast in the role of Officer Lonnie Jamison.
Much like O'Connor himself, his character was racially progressive and politically liberal. In 1989, while working on the set, O'Connor was hospitalized and had to undergo open heart surgery. This caused him to miss four episodes of the show at the end of the second season. The series was transferred from NBC to CBS in 1992 and canceled two years later, in 1994, after its seventh season. After cancellation, O'Connor reprised his role the following year for four two-hour In the Heat of the Night TV movies to critical acclaim.
While on the series, he recorded "Bring A Torch, Jeanette Isabella," for the 1991 "In the Heat of the Night" Christmas CD "Christmas Time's A Comin'." He was joined by Grand Ole Opry star mandolinist Jesse McReynolds, Nashville accordianist Abe Manuel, Jr., and Nashville fiddlers Buddy Spicher and Randall Franks. CD Producer and series co-star Randall Franks created the arrangement which was co-produced by series co-star Alan Autry. O'Connor also joined other members of the cast for a recording of "Jingle Bells" with vocals by Country Music Hall of Fame members Little Jimmy Dickens, Kitty Wells, Pee Wee King, as well as The Marksmen Quartet, Bobby Wright, Johnnie Wright and Ken Holloway.
Golden Globe Award, best television actor in a musical/comedy series, 1972, All in the Family
Emmy Award, outstanding lead actor in a comedy series, 1971, 1976, 1977, and 1978, All in the Family
George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award, 1980, for Archie Alone episode, Archie Bunker's Place
Emmy Award, outstanding lead actor in a drama series, 1989, In the Heat of the Night
NAACP Image Award, 1990, In the Heat of the Night
Golden Globe nomination, best actor in a drama series, 1990, In the Heat of the Night''
Television Hall of Fame, elected 1990 for contributions to the television industry
NAACP Image Award, 1991, In the Heat of the Night
In 1973, his fraternity conferred its highest honor, Sigma Phi Epsilon Citation, on him.
In March 2000, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was given a St. Patrick's Day tribute by MGM.
In July 1991, O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers were reunited to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of All in the Family, which made its debut on CBS. Thanks to reruns which aired in syndication, TV Land and on CBS, the show continued to be popular. Those reruns led producer Norman Lear to create a new sitcom, Sunday Dinner, which was soon cancelled. The following year, Lear created The Powers That Be, which was also unsuccessful.
His caricature figures prominently in Sardi's restaurant, in New York City's Theater District.
In 1962, while he was in Rome, Italy filming Cleopatra, O'Connor and his wife adopted a six day old boy, naming him Hugh, after O'Connor's brother who died a year earlier. Later, during the production of O'Connor's television show, Archie Bunker's Place, then 17-year-old Hugh worked as a courier on the set of the show. O'Connor would eventually create the role of Officer Lonnie Jamison on In the Heat of the Night for his son.
In 1989, O'Connor underwent heart bypass surgery.
In 1995, O'Connor's son Hugh committed suicide after a long battle with drug addiction. Following his son's death, O'Connor appeared in public service announcements for Partnership for a Drug Free America and spent the rest of his life working to raise awareness about drug addiction. O'Connor also successfully lobbied to get the State of California to pass legislation allowing family members of an addicted person or anyone injured by a drug dealer's actions, including employers, to sue for reimbursement for medical treatment and rehabilitation costs. The law, known as the Drug Dealer Civil Liability Act in California, went into effect in 1997. Eleven other states followed with similar legislation, which has been referred to as The Hugh O'Connor Memorial Law.
In 1998, after years of heavy smoking, O'Connor underwent a second surgery to clear the blockage in a cardiac artery to reduce his risk of a stroke.
O'Connor died on June 21, 2001 in Culver City, California from a heart attack brought on by complications from diabetes. His funeral mass was celebrated at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Westwood, Los Angeles, California and was attended by All in the Family cast members Rob Reiner, Sally Struthers and Danielle Brisebois, as well as producer Norman Lear. Actress Jean Stapleton, who played O'Connor's onscreen wife and who had been a close friend of O'Connor's since the early 1960s, did not attend the service due to a stage production performance commitment.
In honor of O'Connor's career, TV Land moved an entire weekend of programming to the next week and showed a continuous marathon of All in the Family. During the commercial breaks TV Land also showed interview footage of O'Connor and various All in the Family actors, producers with whom he had worked, and other associates. O'Connor's best friend Larry Hagman and his family were also there, alongside the surviving cast of In the Heat of the Night, including Alan Autry and Denise Nicholas, who also attended the memorial. O'Connor was buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery with his son Hugh's cenotaph placed on his grave stone.
Friendship with other actors
O'Connor met Broadway and character actress Jean Stapleton in a 1962 episode of The Defenders. Nine years later, she auditioned for the role of Archie's wife Edith in All in the Family. She and O'Connor shared a remarkable husband and wife chemistry for the next decade. She made limited guest appearances on its later spin-off show, Archie Bunker's Place, before leaving in the show's second season. During Stapleton's run as Edith Bunker, she and O'Connor became close friends. She was distressed in 1995, as she bestowed her condolences on the passing of Carroll's son, Hugh, who committed suicide. She remained close and supportive while O'Connor was in court to testify concerning his son's death. Then on the first day of Summer in 2001, while performing on stage, she received word that her friend had died. Though she was unable to attend the service, she delivered her condolences to Nancy.
O'Connor had a long-running friendship with actor Larry Hagman, beginning in 1959, when Carroll was working as an assistant stage manager for the Broadway play God and Kate Murphy, in which Hagman starred. Later as the two struggled as young actors, they rented apartments near each other in New York. Over the years they had a lot in common; just as O'Connor concluded contract negotiations for his salary on All in the Family, in 1974, missing 2 episodes, Hagman eventually found himself re-negotiating his salary on Dallas, with similar results. Hagman's daughter, Heidi, whom O'Connor had known since her childhood, joined the cast for one season of Archie Bunker's Place. Hagman directed several episodes of O'Connor's later series, In the Heat of the Night. They both endured serious health issues, with O'Connor's heart bypass surgery, and Hagman's liver transplant. Hagman remained close after O'Connor's loss of his son Hugh, and through the rest of O'Connor's life, delivering a eulogy at the funeral.
"Nothing will give me any peace. I've lost a son. And I'll go to my grave without any peace over that."
"It was a lack of system that made the 30's Depression as inevitable as all others previously suffered.".
"Get between your kid and drugs, any way you can, if you want to save the kid's life".
Carroll at one point, All in the Family, was getting cancelled: "I thought that the public would kick us off the air, because of this egregious guy. No. They loved ... they knew him."
On his son who was supposed to put him under house arrest: "I should have spied on him. I should've taken away all his civil rights, spied on him, opened his mail, listened to telephone calls, everything."
"I never heard Archie's kind of talk in my own family. My father was a lawyer and was in partnership with two Jews, who with their families were close to us. There were black families in our circle of friends. My father disliked talk like Archie's -- he called it lowbrow."
"The biggest part of my life was the acquiring and the loss of a son. I mean, nothing else was as important as that."
"Conventional show-biz savvy held that Americans hated to be the objects of satire."
1.^ Carroll O'Connor interview with the Archive of American Television at YouTube
2.^ Carroll O'Connor Biography (1924-2001)
3.^ Severo, Richard. "Carroll O'Connor, Embodiment of Social Tumult as Archie Bunker, Dies at 76", The New York Times, June 22, 2001. Accessed November 18, 2007. "The O'Connors lived well, at first in the Bronx, later in a larger apartment in Elmhurst, Queens, and finally in a nice single-family home in Forest Hills, Queens, then an enclave for people of means."
4.^ "Carroll O'Connor," The New York Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/person/53347/Carroll-O-Connor. Retrieved 2009-03-19.
5.^ "Prominent Alumni - Entertainment," Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. http://www.sigep.org/about/alumni_entertainment.asp. Retrieved March 21, 2010.
6.^ All in the UM Family (Accessed October 3, 2009)
10.^ Participation to funeral according to AllBusiness.com
11.^ Source: USIMDB.com
12.^ source: BrainyQuote.com
13.^ Source: A&EBiography.com
14.^ Source: CNN.com
15.^ Source: BrainyQuote.com