America lost more than just its favorite bigot Archie Bunker when the news broke last Thursday that Carroll O'Connor had died of a heart attack at age 76. TV lost its king.
O'Connor reigns in tube history thus...
He was the lead star of the series (All in the Family) that holds two lofty records: It remained atop the Nielsens longer than any other (five years) and spawned the most spin-off series (five Archie Bunker's Place, The Jeffersons, Gloria, Maude and via Maude Good Times.)
O'Connor won more Emmys in the Best Actor category (five) than anyone else.
He was also a veteran thesp who starred in 22 films and scores of theater and TV shows (including the long-running In the Heat of the Night), but when we think of O'Connor, we'll always gasp, "Oh, Archie!" echoing the exasperation and bizarre love felt by his dutiful "dingbat" wife, Edith.
It's bizarre how could we adore a man who so
lambasted "hebes," "spics," "jigaboos" and at least one American First Lady? "Eleanor Roosevelt she discovered the colored," Archie once fumed at Edith. "She told them they were gettin' the short end of the stick and we been having trouble ever since!"
But we forgave Archie (sometimes, at least) because he was a huggable monster he was really Everyman, who worked hard, meant well and loved his wife, family and flag. All in the Family just happened to catch him wigging out during the terrifying 1970s as whitebread America crumbled and Vietnam and Watergate shattered old faiths. "Archie's dilemma is coping with a world that is changing in front of him," O'Connor once told TV Guide. "But he won't get to the root of the problem because the problem is himself and he doesn't know it."
But O'Connor knew what made Archie tick and he was such a brilliant actor that he crafted the most controversial, fascinating, frustrating, multi-dimensional character in TV lore.
And thanks to the invention of rerun-friendly cable, Archie continues his rants today. On some high-numbered channel, you can always find him mangling the King's English as he rages at his "pinko Polack" son-in-law: "You're invading the issue!"
Long live the king.