Jean Stapleton, the actress who endeared herself to viewers in the 1970s as Edith Bunker, whose sudden bursts of truth regularly cut through her husband Archie’s bluster on the groundbreaking television series “All in the Family,” has died. She was 90.
Stapleton died Friday of natural causes at her New York City home, her family announced.
She earned three Emmy Awards starring as the wife of Carroll O’Connor’s loud-mouthed, bigoted Archie Bunker on the show, which marked the beginning of sitcoms as a forum for political – albeit often comical – family warfare.
As Edith, Stapleton became a role model for other women who had to deal with their own hot-headed Archies, a fact that O’Connor relished.
“Before Edith … women who lived with fellows like Archie were usually submissive and suffering in the face of roaring nonthink,” O’Connor later wrote of his on-camera wife. “After Edith, they confronted nonthink a little more sternly and stiffly and gave hint of a serious readiness to rebel, just as Edith rebelled from time to time.”
Stapleton bowed out of the role in the 1980 season. Her “All in the Family” husband, O’Connor, died in 2001.
Stapleton also earned Emmy nominations for playing Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1982 film “Eleanor, First Lady of the World” and for a guest appearance in 1995 on “Grace Under Fire.”
Her big-screen films included a pair directed by Nora Ephron: the 1998 Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romance “You’ve Got Mail” and 1996’s “Michael,” starring John Travolta.
The theater was Stapleton’s first love, and she compiled a rich resume, starting in 1941 as a New England stock player and moving to Broadway in the 1950s and ’60s. In 1964, she originated the role of Mrs. Strakosh in “Funny Girl” with Barbra Streisand. Others musicals and plays included “Bells Are Ringing” and “Damn Yankees,” in which her performance – and the nasal tone she used in “All in the Family” – attracted Lear’s attention and led to his auditioning her for the role of Archie’s wife.
“I wasn’t a leading lady type,” she once told the Associated Press. “I knew where I belonged. And actually, I found character work much more interesting than leading ladies.”
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