Robert Reed, 1932-1992
Story by Irwin Rappaport and The AIDS Memorial
Recording by Eric McCormack
Robert Reed, the actor best known for his role as Mr. Brady on the long-running TV series The Brady Bunch, kept his homosexuality a secret from the public. According to his fellow cast members, leading a double life wasn’t easy for him.
Florence Henderson, who played his on-screen wife Carol Brady, recalled in an interview with ABC News: “He was an unhappy person … I think had Bob not been forced to live this double life, I think it would have dissipated a lot of that anger and frustration.”
I’m Eric McCormack. Things were different when Will & Grace entered America’s living rooms. The culture in the U.S. was more accepting of gay actors and gay roles.
But when The Brady Bunch first aired in 1969, hiring an openly gay actor as the perfect father of the perfect TV family would not have been possible. Even Carol Brady’s backstory had to be changed from a divorcée to a widow in order to placate nervous TV executives.
The series, which lasted five seasons, led to TV specials, a spin-off series and feature film adaptations, and is still in re-runs today, which is great, but Reed had been trained as a Shakespearean actor. He had moved to LA to do a TV adaptation of Neil Simon’s Broadway hit, Barefoot in the Park, in which Reed had succeeded Robert Redford as the star. So a TV sitcom wasn’t what he’d envisioned for his career. Rather than revel in the success of the show, he was unhappy and felt stuck in a long-running show he didn’t like.
Nonetheless, the cast became close, according to show creator Sherwood Schwartz who told ABC News: “They were a family. They became a family. They became very attached to each other … Even Bob Reed, who was a personal pain to me, loved the kids and they loved him.”
Reed is reported to have personally paid for a trip for his television kids to New York and London.
After The Brady Bunch, Reed was able to get some of the more serious roles he coveted, and was recognized for that work. He was nominated for Emmy awards for his roles in the mini-series Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man and for the TV series Medical Center. At the end of his life, he finally found the work that he felt was most fulfilling: teaching Shakespeare at UCLA.
Said a friend, “It was the happiest he ever was. He just loved it.”
Robert Reed died in 1992 at age 59. His death certificate listed as cancer as the cause of death, but also showed that he was HIV positive.