‘The Brady Bunch’ mom Florence Henderson dies at 82

Florence Henderson (AP File)
Florence Henderson (AP File)

LOS ANGELES, Ca (AP) — Florence Henderson, who went from Broadway star to become one of America’s most beloved television moms in “The Brady Bunch,” has died, her manager and her publicist says. She was 82.

Henderson died Thursday night at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, after being hospitalized the day before, says her publicist, David Brokaw. Henderson had suffered heart failure, her manager Kayla Pressman says in a statement.

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

On the surface, “The Brady Bunch” with Henderson as its ever-cheerful matriarch Carol Brady, 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 was also 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 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, played by Ann B. Davis, thrown into the mix.

The blonde, ever-smiling Henderson was already a Broadway star when the 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.

The Career of Florence Henderson

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, right off of a butter churn somewhere,” wrote Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune.

To broaden her career, Henderson took acting, dancing, singing and guitar lessons, even studying 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, and 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.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that she also became a commercial spokeswoman and co-produced “Country Kitchen,” a Nashville Network series.

Florence Henderson’s Early Life

Florence Agnes Henderson was born Feb. 14, 1934, in the small town of Dale in southern Indiana. 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 the union ended in divorce after 29 years.

Her second husband, John Kappas, died in 2002.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s