Erin O’Brien, Actress Known for ‘Onionhead’ With Andy Griffith, Dies at 87

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: Warner Brothers/De Carvalho Collection/Getty Images

Erin O’Brien has passed away. The actor and singer entertained audiences appearing alongside TV legend Andy Griffith in the 1958 film “Onionhead.”

According to the Hollywood Reporter, O’Brien’s sister Sheila confirmed her death. The actor reportedly passed away on May 20th at her Seattle home. O’Brien died of natural causes according to the outlet. O’Brien was 87-years-old.

The actor had a decades-long career in Hollywood. In addition to “Onionhead” with Griffith, she also starred opposite Robert Stack in the film “John Paul Jones” in 1959. Later, O’Brien appeared in the pilot episode of the crime series “77 Sunset Strip” as well. That episode was called “Girl on the Run” and spawned six seasons and 206 episodes.

But O’Brien only appeared in the first episode. She played a lounge singer in the wrong place at the wrong time. O’Brien’s character accidentally sees a murder of a nearby union boss. As a result, she suddenly finds herself on the run and hunted down herself. The show also starred Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Edd Byrnes as well. Both would carry the series to success.

Erin O’Brien and Her Career

While her part may have been limited to the pilot, Erin O’Brien played an important part in the show and its history. O’Brien was born on Jan. 17, 1934, in Los Angeles, California, making her a native to the glamor of Hollywood. She found the entertainment bug early in life, first performing with the Long Beach Philharmonic. She later appeared for three years on the “AL Jarvis Show,” which also starred Betty White as well.

O’Brien’s singing voice drew plenty of ears. For instance, she ended up winning the top prize on the Arthur Godfrey’s “Talent Scouts” show. Her song “Only a Rose” earned her a trip to “The Tonight Show” with Steve Allen. She ended up signing a one-year recording contract for the show that very night.

Besides “The Tonight Show,” O’Brien made a name for herself appearing on other late-night programming. She graced the presences of Frank Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, Liberace and others. She also ended up going overseas to entertain soldiers with Bob Hope as well.

It wasn’t long before O’Brien made the transition from singing to acting. She signed a contract at Warner Bros and started a movie career. Films included “COlt. 45,” “Cheyenne,” and “Maverick” for instance. But she ended up wowing audiences opposite Andy Griffith in 1958. Later she played in “John Paul Jones” as part of that film’s love triangle as well.

O’Brien retired from acting in 1967 after appearing in “In Like Flint.”