She practically raised generations of youngsters, and not just her “bunch” from the 1970s. And now she’s with us no more.
Florence Henderson, best known for her work on The Brady Bunch beginning in 1969, died Thursday. She was 82.
Henderson, according to The Associated Press, suffered heart failure, and had been admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles the day before.
Despite being an octogenarian, Henderson never even considered retirement, in fact (ironically enough) hosting not one, but two shows on Retirement Living TV. One was her own talk show, The Florence Henderson Show, and the other was a cooking show, Who’s Cooking With Florence Henderson?
She also stayed busy as an actress. In just the past year, Henderson guested in Disney’s K.C. Undercover, The Eleventh (from streaming service Feeln) and Disney’s animated adventure, Sofia the First. Henderson also popped up in the Marlon Wayans’ R-rated comedy Fifty Shades of Black, and had finished filming a second comedy Grandmothers Murder Club with Judge Reinhold and Pam Grier.
Florence Agnes Henderson was born Feb. 14, 1934, in Dale, Indiana, a small town in the southern-most part of the state that had barely 800 people living there when she was born. The town also was not far from where Abraham Lincoln was raised.
But her acting career did not begin in television sitcoms, but instead on the Broadway stage in the 1950s with Wish You Were Here.
She jumped to television in 1962 when she was one of several guest hosts to fill in on The Tonight Show between the Jack Paar and Johnny Carson era. She’d stick with NBC after that, becoming a part of The Today Show, handling weather and light news in a position once held by Barbara Walters.
Henderson’s most memorable role, of course, would come on The Brady Bunch in 1969 when she was cast as matriarch Carol Brady.
Her casting in the role, at least according to Hollywood legend, has some serious geek implications, however.
Henderson had arrived at the studios that was preparing Brady Bunch for a screen test and was directed to an adjoining studio for makeup. She found herself sitting between William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, who were getting ready to film the final episodes of Star Trek. According to Henderson’s recollection of the story, both the Kirk and Spock actors ignored her.
One of her biggest jobs while on the show was not just to be a surrogate mother to the six actors who played her children, but also to work with her on-screen husband Robert Reed. When she noticed he was struggling with romantic scenes with her, Reed came out and told her he was gay. Henderson would then spend extra time working with Reed on various romantic interactions, and the entire cast would keep Reed’s sexuality a secret until he died in 1992.
The series was never that big of a hit during its original run, and ABC thought it had put it out of its misery in 1974 after five seasons. But syndication, just like it already was starting to do with Star Trek, would turn the series into a pop culture phenomenon. It started with a short-lived cartoon that aired while the main series was still running called The Brady Kids that did not include Henderson or Reed.
But it continued in 1976 with The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, produced by Land of the Lost‘s Sid and Marty Krofft, that lasted just one season on ABC.
NBC would take over the franchise in the 1980s with the first reunion film, The Bradys Get Married, which the network decided to break up into half-hour chunks, leading to a backdoor pilot of a sitcom called The Brady Brides. That show, featuring Brady daughters Maureen McCormick (Marcia) and Eve Plumb (Jan) would last just 10 episodes.
CBS would air A Very Brady Christmas in 1989, itself that led to a new series starring Henderson called The Bradys, which the network cancelled after six episodes.
When director Betty Thomas resurrected the franchise through a series of comedy films in the 1990s, Henderson was replaced with Cheers actress Shelley Long, but popped into the first film as “Grandma.” The campy take on the show, putting the 1970s family in the middle of the 1990s, earned a respectable $46.6 million at the box office, and spawned two sequels in 1996 and 2002. The first film premiered just three days after Henderson’s 61st birthday.
Besides Reed, Henderson also had to say good-bye to Ann B. Davis, who played the goofy maid Alice Nelson, who died in 2014 at 88. Sherwood Schwartz, the show’s creator, died in 2011 at 94.
Henderson married theater executive Ira Bernstein in 1956, sharing four children with him before they divorced in 1985. She then married John Kappas in 1987 until his death in 2002.
Henderson is survived by her four children and five grandchildren.
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