‘All in the Family’ Star Carroll O’Connor Had Hilarious Response When Asked About Southern Accent for 1980s Show

by Joe Rutland
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Actor Carroll O’Connor, known for “All in the Family,” played a role that needed a Southern accent. He got it in an interesting way.

A few years after his time playing Archie Bunker ended, O’Connor played Police Chief Bill Gillespie on “In the Heat of the Night” for eight seasons.

The show is based on the 1967 movie of the same name which stars Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier. It is set in Mississippi, so O’Connor needs a reference point for his accent.

Carroll O’Connor Recalls His Time At Wake Forest University

In a 1989 column from “The Wake Weekly,” the piece talks about O’Connor appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” O’Connor is asked by then-guest host Jay Leno where he picked up his accent.

O’Connor said that he went to college “in the little southern town of Wake Forest, North Carolina.”

“I didn’t really learn much, and then I learned to play nine-ball at ‘Shorty’ Joyner’s poolroom and didn’t learn anything else,” O’Connor told Leno.

The one thing that did stick with him, though, is that North Carolina accent. It became a reference point the New York-born actor used for playing Sheriff Gillespie.

Looking back on his previous success, O’Connor discovered a secret that helped keep Archie Bunker popular on “All in the Family.”

“The trick with playing comedy is to play it very seriously. I always played Archie Bunker very seriously,” O’Connor told The Golden Globes. “You know, Archie never laughed. He was seriously annoyed by the world. So, I didn’t have to play comedy, I just had to play his traumatic concern with the way things were falling apart.

“That’s all,” O’Connor said. “I didn’t have to do jokes. People laughed at Archie’s attitudes.”

O’Connor adds that there weren’t very many jokes for Archie.

It’s true. Watch Archie get caught up in so many issues. He has no time to laugh. O’Connor played the role that defined his career almost picture perfect.

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