Happy Birthday Ed O’Neill: Relive the Actor’s Funniest Career Moments

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Happy Birthday Ed O’Neill, the guy who can make a case that he’s the funniest father on network television. He’s certainly one of our favorites.

The guy who played Al Bundy and Jay Pritchett turned 75 years old today. So find a quality cigar and pour some good Scotch as we highlight some of the best career moments of Ed O’Neill.

First, did you know that O’Neill was a football player who once had an NFL dream? He played college football at Ohio University, then transferred to hometown Youngtown State. He signed a free-agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers, back when NFL teams could bring many more players into training camp. O’Neill was a defensive lineman. That same year, the Steelers drafted Mean Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood. Chuck Noll was in his first season as head coach. He cut O’Neill and his Steel Curtain defense did just fine with Greene and Greenwood.

By 1986, Ed O’Neill had a nice acting career going for himself. After his NFL dream ended so abruptly, he returned to college and earned a degree in theater. A casting agent saw him in a John Steinbeck play and thought he’d be perfect for this new sitcom called Married … With Children. The comedy basically mocked all the sweet family dramas.

A promotional portrait of the cast of the television series ‘Married With Children,’ 1990. (L-R) David Faustino, Ed o’Neill, Katey Segal, Christina Applegate, and Amanda Bearse (standing at back). (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Images)

Ed O’Neill Starred In Fox’s First-Ever Comedy

The Bundys were, by definition, dysfunctional. Ed O’Neill was the dad. And get this, he played a former high school football star who never made it big on the next level. So he sold women’s shoes. Terry Bradshaw, the Steeler quarterback who earned a roster spot a year after O’Neill was cut, even guest-starred.

Married … With Children was groundbreaking. It was the first primetime sitcom on the fledgling Fox Network. O’Neill, as Al Bundy, talked about strip clubs and adult magazines. He said his favorite TV show was “Psycho Dad.” He certainly was no Mike Brady or Ward Cleaver.

The show, aside from making Ed O’Neill a star, also elevated the careers of Katey Sagal and Christina Applegate. The series lasted from 1987-97.

O’Neill Played Another Unconventional Dad in ‘Modern Family’

A dozen years after Married …. With Children, O’Neill was cast as another dad on another unconventional show. Modern Family was just like its name. O’Neill played Jay Pritchett, the patriarch of the family. He was a successful businessman with a hot wife, Gloria, who was played by Sofia Vergara. She was his second wife and the mother of his youngest son. And Gloria also had a son, Manny, who lives with her and Jay.

Jay’s first wife, and the mother of his two adult children, was played by Shelley Long, Diane Chambers on Cheers.

Modern Family also featured the grown children — Claire and Mitchell. Claire had three kids. Mitchell, who is gay, was married to Cam. The two of them adopt two children.

Modern Family, which ran for 11 years, won 17 Emmys. O’Neill was nominated three times for Best Supporting Actor in a comedy.

Ed O’Neill wasn’t all about comedy and playing oddball fathers. He voiced Hank the Octopus on the animated movie Finding Dory. He played Joe Friday on a remake of Dragnet. And he was Gov Eric Baker on The West Wing. You also can hear his voice on national commercials for cell phones and allergy meds.

And about that athletic career. Ed O’Neill didn’t realize his pro football dream. But he did earn a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

So relax, have several laughs and celebrate Ed O’Neill, who certainly turned the TV father figure on its head.

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