‘Brady Bunch’ mom Henderson dies at 82

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

Florence Henderson, who went from Broad­way star to be­come one of Amer­ica’s most beloved tele­vi­sion moms on “The Brady Bunch,” has died. She was 82.

Henderson died at Cedars-Si­nai Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les on Thurs­day night, a day af­ter she was hos­pi­tal­ized, said her pub­li­cist, David Brokaw. Henderson suf­fered heart fail­ure, her man­ager, Kayla Press­man, said in a state­ment.

Fam­ily and friends sur­rounded Henderson’s hos­pi­tal bed­side, Press­man said.

On the sur­face, “The Brady Bunch,” with Henderson as its ever-cheer­ful ma­tri­arch, Carol, re­sem­bled just an­other TV sit­com about a fam­ily liv­ing in sub­ur­ban Amer­ica and get­ting into a dif­fer­ent wacky sit­u­a­tion each week. But well af­ter it ended its ini­tial run in 1974, the show res­onated with au­di­ences, and it re­turned to tele­vi­sion in var­i­ous forms again and again, in­clud­ing “The Brady Bunch Hour” in 1977, “The Brady Brides” in 1981 and “The Bradys” in 1990. It also was seen end­lessly in re­runs.

“It rep­re­sents what peo­ple al­ways wanted: a lov­ing fam­ily. It’s such a gen­tle, in­no­cent, sweet show, and I guess it proved there’s al­ways an au­di­ence for that,” Henderson said in 1999.

Premier­ing in 1969, it also was among the first shows to in­tro­duce to tele­vi­sion the blended fam­ily. As its theme song re­minded view­ers each week, Henderson’s Carol, “a lovely lady,” was a sin­gle mother rais­ing three daugh­ters when she met her TV hus­band, Robert Reed’s Mike Brady, a sin­gle father who was rais­ing three boys.

The eight of them be­came “The Brady Bunch,” with a quirky house­keeper, Alice, played by Ann B. Davis, thrown into the mix.

Mourn­ers flooded so­cial me­dia on Fri­day with memories of Henderson.

Maureen McCormick, who played the el­dest Brady daugh­ter, Mar­cia, tweeted, “You are in my heart for­ever Florence.” “Danc­ing With the Stars” host Tom Berg­eron tweeted, “Heart­bro­ken. I’ll miss you, my friend.” Henderson’s last pub­lic ap­pear­ance was Mon­day at the “Danc­ing With The Stars” tap­ing where she was in the au­di­ence to sup­port McCormick, who com­peted this sea­son.

The blonde, ever-smil­ing Henderson al­ready was a Broad­way star when the TV show be­gan, hav­ing orig­i­nated the ti­tle role in the mu­si­cal “Fanny.” But af­ter “The Brady Bunch,” she would al­ways be known to fans as Carol Brady.

“We had to have se­cu­rity guards with us. Fans were hang­ing on our doors. We couldn’t go out by our­selves. We were like the Bea­tles!” she said of the at­ten­tion the show brought the cast.

Like the Bea­tles, there even was a Satur­day morn­ing car­toon ver­sion called “Brady Kids,” though Henderson was not part of that show.

She and Reed did re­turn, how­ever, for “The Brady Bunch Hour, “The Brady Brides” and “The Bradys.” So did most of the orig­i­nal cast.

She also was back again in 1995, when a new cast was as­sem­bled for “The Brady Bunch Movie,” a play­ful spoof of the orig­i­nal show. This time she was Grandma Brady op­po­site Shel­ley Long’s Carol. Nu­mer­ous mem­oirs also kept in­ter­est in the show alive as cast mem­bers re­vealed they were more than just sib­lings off cam­era. Barry Williams, who played el­dest son Greg Brady, would con­fess to hav­ing a crush on his TV step­mom. Henderson, in her own book, de­nied hav­ing any re­la­tion­ship with Williams but did ac­knowl­edge a fling with for­mer New York City Mayor John Lind­say.

Henderson was a 19-year-old drama stu­dent in New York when she landed a one-line role in the play “Wish You Were Here.” Richard Rodgers and Os­car Ham­mer­stein II were so im­pressed they made her the fe­male lead in a 1952 road tour of “Ok­la­homa!” When the show re­turned to Broad­way for a re­vival in 1954, she con­tin­ued in the role and won rave re­views.

“She is the real thing,” wrote Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune.

To broaden her ca­reer, Henderson took act­ing, danc­ing, singing and gui­tar les­sons, and stud­ied French and Ital­ian.

She went on to play Maria in a road pro­duc­tion of “The Sound of Mu­sic,” was Nel­lie For­bush in a re­vival of “South Pa­cific” and was back on Broad­way with Jose Fer­rer in “The Girl Who Came to Sup­per” in 1963.

She made her movie de­but in 1970 in “Song of Nor­way,” based on the 1944 op­eretta with mu­sic by Nor­we­gian com­poser Ed­vard Grieg.

Her ca­reer nearly came to an end in 1965, when she sud­denly lost her hear­ing while ap­pear­ing in “The King and I” in Los An­ge­les. She was di­ag­nosed with a con­di­tion linked to hered­ity.

“Cor­rec­tive surgery in both ears re­stored my hear­ing,” she said in 2007.

As her TV ca­reer blos­somed with “The Brady Bunch,” Henderson also be­gan to make fre­quent TV guest ap­pear­ances. She was the first woman to host “The Tonight Show” for the va­ca­tion­ing Johnny Car­son.

For eight years, she also com­muted to Nashville to con­duct a cook­ing and talk se­ries, “Coun­try Kitchen,” on The Nashville Net­work. The show re­sulted in a book, “Florence Henderson’s Short Cut Cook­ing.”

Af­ter “The Brady Bunch” ended its first run, Henderson al­ter­nated her ap­pear­ances in re­vivals of the show with guest ap­pear­ances on other pro­grams, in­clud­ing “Hart to Hart,” “Fan­tasy Is­land” and “The Love Boat.”

In later years, she also made guest ap­pear­ances on such shows as “Roseanne, “Ally McBeal” and “The King of Queens.”

Florence Agnes Henderson was born Feb. 14, 1934, in the small town of Dale, Ind. She was the 10th child of a tobacco share­crop­per of Ir­ish de­scent.

In grade school, she joined the choir at a Catholic church in Rock­port, Ind.

Af­ter high school, she moved to New York, where she en­rolled in a two-year pro­gram at the Amer­i­can Academy of Dra­matic Arts, her stud­ies fi­nanced by a the­atri­cal cou­ple who had been im­pressed by her singing when they saw her per­form in high school. She dropped out of the pro­gram af­ter one year, how­ever, to take the role in “Wish You Were There.”

Henderson mar­ried the­ater ex­ec­u­tive Ira Bern­stein and the cou­ple had four chil­dren be­fore di­vorc­ing af­ter 29 years.

Her sec­ond hus­band, John Kap­pas, died in 2002.

Press­man said Henderson is sur­vived by her chil­dren, Barbara, Joseph, Robert and Lizzie, their spouses and five grand­chil­dren.

AP FILE

Ac­tresses Florence Henderson, left, and Ann B. Davis — who played Carol Brady and Alice the house­keeper, re­spec­tively, on TV’s ‘The Brady Bunch’ — are shown in 2003 in Los An­ge­les. Henderson died Thurs­day; Davis in 2014.

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