Carroll O'Connor, the Emmy-winning actor best-known for his iconic role as Archie Bunker in the groundbreaking 1970s television comedy "All in the Family," died June 21 after suffering a heart attack. He was 76.
The silver-haired and blue-eyed actor was rushed from the family home to Brotman Medical Center in Culver City after suffering chest pains. His wife of 50 years, Nancy, was with him when he died about an hour after being admitted.
Widely considered to be among the greatest and most influential of television comedies, "All in the Family" and the character of Bunker -- a lovable, conservative bigot loosely modeled after series creator Norman Lear's own father -- established Mr. O'Connor as a major television star.
Mr. O'Connor played Bunker for 13 seasons beginning in 1971, with "All in the Family" becoming "Archie Bunker's Place" a decade into that run, after the departure of the show's other major cast members.
Lear said he last spoke with Mr. O'Connor a couple of months ago. Regarding the casting of Mr. O'Connor and co-stars Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, he said, "While I made the decisions, it was the gods at play, because nobody was responsible for them being in the business, around and available.
"Carroll O'Connor walked into my office, we shook hands, we sat down at a table, took out a script and started reading Archie Bunker, and as the character was later wont to say, 'Case Closed,' " he recalled. "I looked up to the heavens and said, 'Thank God, Archie has arrived.' "
Reiner -- who played Archie's son-in-law Michael Stivic, whom he dubbed "Meathead" -- said upon learning of Mr. O'Connor's death: "I loved Carroll, and he's going to be missed. He created the most indelible character ever created in American TV."
Famously rejected by ABC despite the fact the network shot two versions of a prototype episode, the series vaulted CBS to the top of the prime-time ratings and gave rise to a number of spinoff shows -- including such popular comedies as "Maude" and "The Jeffersons."
Lear noted that CBS hired 80 additional telephone operators to take calls and put an advisory in front of the show warning that its inflammatory content might disturb some viewers.
Yet despite criticism of both the show's liberal politics and Bunker's use of derisive terminology to describe various racial and ethnic groups, Lear said, "Carroll and I thought the show started people talking around the dinner table. When the show went off, they had something to talk about. That we could take credit for, but not for changing anything. America took it in stride. The Establishment didn't. There's nothing Archie said that [people] couldn't or didn't hear on the playground."
A self-described liberal, Mr. O'Connor said in a 1994 interview that the character of Archie "wasn't even close" to who he was as a person. Still, he conceded, "I'll never play a better part than Archie. He was the best character, the most fulfilling character, and I never thought it was going to develop that way. There's no role that can top that."
Despite his enduring recognition as Archie, Mr. O'Connor is also among those rare television performers to star in another hit series. "In the Heat of the Night" -- a drama that premiered in 1988, based on the 1967 Oscar-winning film -- cast him as Bill Gillespie, a sheriff in Sparta, Miss.
A four-time Emmy winner for "All in the Family," Mr. O'Connor won his fifth best actor statuette for the drama in 1989.
Mr. O'Connor experienced a personal tragedy involving drugs when his adopted son, Hugh, who had struggled with cocaine addiction, committed suicide in 1995.
Mr. O'Connor began a crusade to see the man who sold Hugh the drugs, Harry Perzigian, charged with a crime, and Perzigian was convicted on two drug counts in 1996. A month later, Perzigian filed a defamation law suit against Mr. O'Connor; a jury ultimately found in Mr. O'Connor's favor.
His son's death turned Mr. O'Connor into an advocate against drug abuse, and the actor said the highly publicized trial actually provided him a forum to spread the word on that issue.
Before "All in the Family," the New York native appeared in a string of films throughout the 1960s, among them the World War II epics "In Harm's Way" and "The Devil's Brigade."
Mr. O'Connor was the eldest of three brothers, born to Irish Roman-Catholic parents. His father was a lawyer, and Mr. O'Connor grew up in Forest Hills, N.Y., where he was mostly sheltered from the sting of the Depression.
After graduating from high school in 1942, he became a merchant seaman during World War II, sailing on more than a dozen ships in the North Atlantic before enrolling at the University of Montana, where he majored in English.
Among his various honors, Mr. O'Connor was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 1990.
Times staff writers Greg Braxton, Dana Calvo and Susan King contributed to this report.