Archie and Edith Bunker shared a long, if at times, dysfunctional marriage on “All in the Family.” But all that changed in the spinoff “Archie Bunker’s Place.”
Bunker found himself a widower after his wife Edith died off-screen from a stroke during Season 2 of the spinoff. For fans of “All in the Family” who watched the couple for almost a decade, the episode was very emotional. But Edith actor Jean Stapleton revealed that Edith’s death was always the plan.
Stapleton and creator Norman Lear both agreed that it was time to end “All in the Family” after eight seasons. But the network convinced Lear and Archie actor Caroll O’Connor to return for another season. The show was retooled into “Archie Bunker’s Place” and focused almost entirely on Bunker’s character. Stapleton agreed to make small guest appearances but wanted to leave her options open to pursue other opportunities.
“I, of course, left the show a year after Sally [Struthers] and Rob [Reiner] have left,” Stapleton told Foundation Interviews. “I had decided we had done everything we could. And it was time to go on or be buried as far as casting is concerned in this kind of part. So that was my decision. A year later I was on tour in a play. I was in Florida. A call came from [producer] Bud Yorkin and then from Norman… They wanted to expand the stories and get [Archie] out of the bar which is where it was usually set and have him date women. So they have a greater variety of scripts. They were calling to ascertain that I truly wasn’t interested in returning.”
‘Archie Bunker’s Place’ Kills Edith
Both producers called to ask Stapleton if she minded that her character died off-screen. Creator Norman Lear struggled to actually kill off the character. For him, his creation had become like a real living person. And it took Stapleton to convince him to swing the executioner’s ax.
“He could not say yes to allow Edith to die in a script so Archie can get on with his life. Norman said on the phone, ‘I just haven’t been able to say yes to this,'” Stapleton recalled. “So I brought it down to this is. I said to Norman, ‘Norman, you realize that she is only fiction.’ There was a long pause. And I thought I hurt this dear man that I love so much. And then the voice came back, ‘To me, she isn’t.'”
The show killed off Edith, allowing Archie to become a bachelor on the show. “Archie Bunker’s Place” would run for four seasons in total.