‘All in the Family’: Why Was Edith Killed off the Show?

Norman Lear has helped define the American television sitcom as we know it today. With his pulse on the ever-changing landscape, Lear had hoped to launch a sitcom about a working-class family in the 1960s. However, his big break did not come until 1971, when CBS picked up All in the Family.

The series ran until 1979 and followed the Bunker family living in Queens, New York. Though the series was wildly popular, spawning seven spinoffs, there was a bit of turmoil behind the scenes.

There’s a reason why Jean Stapleton, who played Edith Bunker, was killed off the show.

Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton looking surprised on the set of "All in the Family"
Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton acting on the set of “All in the Family” TV show in 1978 | Ron Eisenberg/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Set at the beginning of the 1970s, a decade that would define a new age for Americans, All in the Family showcased the generational divide. Patriarch Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) was a narrow-minded, racist and bigoted man who refused to deal with the massive changes of the 1970s.

The TV show also followed matriach, Edith (Jean Stapleton), a sweet and gentle woman whose anxiety often got the best of her. The series also centered Archie and Edith’s feminist daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers), and her jock husband, Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner), who often rubbed Archie the wrong way.

When All in the Family initially premiered, the Season 1 ratings were horrible. However, it garnered a massive audience during its reruns in the summer months between the first two seasons. The series’ willingness to tackle subjects like racism, infidelity, homosexuality, rape, religion, miscarriages, abortion, breast cancer and the Vietnam War also impressed youngs fans.

RELATED: ‘All in the Family’: Rob Reiner on His Emotional Final Scene in the Series – ‘There Was No Acting’

Carroll O’Connor was difficult to work with on ‘All in the Family’, Norman Lear says

As beloved as All in the Family was, O’Connor was reportedly very difficult to work with behind the scenes. In 1999, the late actor revealed that he rewrote the show’s entire pilot episode because he thought it was terrible.

“I rewrote the script all in pencil,” O’Connor explained to the Television Academy Foundation in 1999. “I had no typist so I recorded the entire script on a tape, playing all the parts. Edith, the Meathead, Archie of course, the Black kid from next door. I brought that tape and I gave it to Norman. He put it on a machine and played the tape. It was a complete rewrite. He gave the tape to his secretary and said, ‘Transcribe this,’ she made a script out of it, and that’s the script we did.”

From then on, O’Connor had frequent edits, changes, rewritings, and criticisms of Lear and the writers. “As difficult and often abusive as Carroll could be, his Archie made up for it and I could kiss his feet after every performance,” Lear said.

Why was Edith killed off of ‘All in the Family?

By the time the final season of All in the Family debuted, Edith was seen less and less on screen. Stapleton feared being typecast in “submissive” roles, so she began guest starring instead of appearing as a series regular.

After only appearing in four episodes in the final episode, Lear finally agreed to kill Edith off the series, “To me, she isn’t [fictional],” Lear said before finally agreeing via The Television Academy.

Stapleton would go on to star in everything from You’ve Got Mail to Everybody Loves Raymond before her death in 2013.