Childhood & Early Life
The Irish–American actor was born on August 2, 1924, in Manhattan, New York City, to Edward Joseph O’Conner and his wife, Elise Patricia O’Conner. His father was a lawyer, and his mother was a schoolteacher. He had two brothers who later became doctors. One of them, Hugh, died in a motorcycle accident, and the other, Robert, became a psychiatrist in New York City.
Raised in an Irish Catholic household, he had a carefree childhood, living in what was considered a wealthy neighborhood. However, he skipped kindergarten and went to first grade at 5. As a result, he became difficult to handle, and school was not a rewarding experience for him.
He attended ‘Wake Forest University’ in North Carolina, but his studies were interrupted by World War II. After being rejected by the ‘Naval Air Corps’ because of his poor school results and bad teeth, he stepped into the ‘United States Merchant Marine Academy,’ becoming a merchant seaman.
When the war was over, he attended the ‘University of Montana – Missoula,’ where he met his future wife, Nancy. There, he worked as an editor for the student newspaper and also joined the ‘Sigma Phi Epsilon’ fraternity. However, he left that university to go to Ireland with his brother Hugh and completed his studies at the ‘University College Dublin.’
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Carroll’s first contact with the stage was in 1950, when he was cast in theatrical productions in Dublin and New York. Director Burgess Meredith got him a part in an ‘Off-Broadway’ production of ‘Ulysses.’ The two remained friends after that.
He made his way to TV as a character actor in ‘Sunday Showcase.’ That was the beginning of a long career. During the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, he appeared in a long list of studio films: ‘Lonely Are the Brave,’ ‘Cleopatra,’ ‘In Harm’s Way,’ ‘What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?,’ ‘Hawaii,’ ‘Not With My Wife, ‘You Don’t!,’ ‘Warning Shot,’ ‘Point Blank,’ ‘The Devil’s Brigade,’ ‘For Love of Ivy,’ ‘Death of a Gunfighter,’ ‘Marlowe,’ ‘Kelly’s Heroes,’ and ‘Doctors’ Wives.’
However, his TV roles brought him the most fans. ‘Archie Bunker’ was his breakthrough role. ‘Archie’ was a TV character that became a favorite for many seasons of ‘All in the Family.’ The sitcom ran from 1971 to 1979 and was inspired by the British show ‘Till Death Do Us Part.’ While living in Rome, Carroll was asked to play ‘Archie,’ but nobody could gauge just how much he would add to the character.
‘All in the Family’ was not only a big break for Carroll but also a revelation in the TV world. It was the first time a sitcom talked about the taboo topics of that time, such as gender, race, religion, and sex. That is probably one of the reasons the critics did not appreciate it initially. However, it was a huge success with the public. While speaking about the character of ‘Archie Bunker’ in an article in the ‘Chicago Tribune,’ Allan Johnson stated that it was more than just “a simple-minded and intolerant” person. He claimed the character was “…the symbol of an aging man who felt overwhelmed by the fast changes that happened in society and was trying to keep up in his own way.” The show became iconic, and Carroll received four ‘Emmy Awards’ for his performance.
‘In the Heat of the Night’ was another important series for Carroll. Back then, Carroll was trying to help his son get over his drug addiction. He even managed to get him a part in the series. Around the same time, he had to go through a heart surgery. Thus, he did not appear in four episodes at the end of the second season.
His acting career included roles in TV series such as ‘The Americans,’ ‘The Eleventh Hour,’ ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Bonanza,’ ‘The Fugitive,’ ‘The Wild Wild West,’ ‘Armstrong Circle Theatre,’ ‘The Outer Limits,’ ‘The Great Adventure,’ ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,’ ‘Dr. Kildare,’ ‘I Spy,’ ‘That Girl,’ and ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.’
He produced 61 episodes and directed four episodes of ‘In the Heat of the Night.’ He also directed nine episodes of ‘Archie Bunker's Place.’
He wrote several episodes of ‘In the Heat of the Night,’ ‘Archie Bunker's Place,’ and ‘Bronk.’
He also contributed to the soundtrack of ‘All in the Family.’
Awards & Achievements
Carroll earned a great number of awards and distinctions, such as the ‘Golden Globe Award’ for the ‘Best Actor,’ the ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ for ‘Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series,’ the ‘George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award,’ the ‘Television Academy Hall of Fame,’ and the ‘NAACP Image Award.’
Family & Personal Life
Carroll married Nancy Fields in Dublin on July 28, 1951. In 1962, they adopted a newborn baby and named him Hugh (after Carroll’s brother). Unfortunately, Hugh was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was 16, and although he defeated cancer, he remained addicted to drugs. Eventually, he lost his battle with drugs and killed himself, leaving his father devastated and wanting revenge against the man who had sold drugs to his son. After the death of his son, he appeared in a public service announcement for ‘Partnership for a Drug Free America’ and spent the rest of his life working to raise awareness about drug addiction.
He suffered from diabetes. He underwent a heart surgery in 1989 and another in 1998, only to die of a heart attack in 2001.