Jean Stapleton, best remembered for her portrayal of the long suffering, yet always sympathetic and scatterbrained wife of TV’s Archie Bunker on the seminal 1970s sitcom All in the Family, has died of natural causes in New York City, according to the LA Times. She as 90.
Stapleton, who was an actress first weaned on dramatic roles in her career, found a place in television lore as the character of Edith Bunker on the CBS sitcom, which ran from 1971-1979 and was the number one television show for five years during that run early on. She portrayed the character with a heart of gold and a running, ditzy mouth and attitude which sometimes became rather grating, especially on her husband Archie, the rotund, blowhard bigot who had opinions for everyone and everything in his difficult life, except himself of course. Played by the late Carroll O’Connor, he and Stapleton exhibited a chemistry which was able to successfully parlay such guises as hilarity, drama, pathos, candor, silliness, and intensity. The two of them, along with Sally Struthers (who played their daughter Gloria) and Rob Reiner (who played Gloria’s husband Mike), were one of television’s finest ensembles, and they all went through a road with their characters life which spoke about themes such as impotence, political unrest and uneasiness, pollution, abortion, homosexuality, inflation; in fact, no subject was taboo, and the show pushed the envelope of what was once forbidden to discuss on television, let alone a situation comedy right to the forefront of the American fabric, no doubt aided and abetted by the skillful acting by the foursome.
Stapleton’s Edith was a complex character all things considered; her manic and long-winded stories always seemed to somehow wind up with a center and a purpose attached. She went through some rough patches as well as the show’s years went on, an early classic episode was when she went through manic and hilarious mood swings by way of menopause, or when she had to deal with Archie cheating on her, in which ultimately wound up confirming that for all the face value buffoonery Edith exhibited, she was indeed the strongest person in the marriage, to having her worst fears realized, when an attacker came to her door, and attempted to rape her. It was in performances like these, especially the episode with the rapist, that Stapleton could at a moment’s notice turn the character of Edith Bunker into a three dimensional figure which came to life with flawless acting that stands as not only some of the best in TV sitcom history, but also in TV drama as well. She could make you wince and then break your heart while laughing all at the same time. Her multiple Emmy wins only confirm the fact of what a dazzling, genius actress she was and the endless reruns of All in the Family will only solidify what a raw and amazing talent Jean Stapleton is.
Relive, if you haven’t in recent times, some All in the Family today, or wait for the inevitable and rightfully so tributes that will probably be run in episode marathons of the show shown in her honor and memory. She was one of a kind, the all too rare actress that could evoke emotions from the viewer, seemingly at will, not least because the audience felt totally comfortable and also in need of caring and protecting for her character of Edith Bunker. That alone stands as a true testament of a consummate professional. For Jean Stapleton and really the rest of the cast of All in the Family also, there could be no other way than the highest standard for the highest success.
RIP Jean, those were the days indeed, they will always be the days.
[Source: LA Times]