Tragic Details About Barbara Eden

The following article includes mentions of addiction, alcoholism, and suicide.

Barbara Eden may have charmed audiences as the star of "I Dream of Jeannie," but the actor's real life was very different from the magical sitcom world she lived in on-screen.

As The Spokesman-Review reported, the star was born in Tucson, Arizona, where she lived for the first few years of her life. When Eden was only three, her parents got a divorce, and she left with her mother. "Money was scarce," she later told The Sydney Morning Herald. "So for a few years we lived in El Paso with my grandparents. My grandfather was a wonderful man who never refused me anything. I loved him dearly."

Later, she and her mom moved to San Francisco, where they lived with Eden's new stepfather, per Datebook. The actor told The Bay Area Reporter the city still "feels like home" to her. She has fond memories of roller skating at the wharf while her stepdad fished. But her new family still faced the prospect of poverty, as she recalled. Keep reading to find out more about the real-life tragedies that have followed Eden throughout her remarkable life.

Barbara Eden grew up in the Great Depression

During the Great Depression, Barbara Eden's family shared their house with one of her aunts and her husband. "My parents' financial existence was so perilous that we moved around a great deal. I attended five different schools in San Francisco, and we lived in five different homes," she revealed in her memoir, "Jeannie Out of the Bottle," adding that even if her stepfather's job as a telephone lineman didn't pay well, they were still a "carefree" household. "In those far-off years during the Depression, however poor my parents were, they still hadn't forgotten how to love, how to laugh, and how to dream," the actor continued.

Despite her family's unlucky circumstances, Eden developed a love for show business and started studying singing. As The Bay Area Reporter noted, she even overcame her financial situation to become Miss San Francisco in 1951. "I was studying acting, and my acting teacher said that I was shy. She said if I could stand in a bathing suit in front of people, it'd help me," Eden recalled, adding that even if she was "really embarrassed," it still taught her a lot. "It was a wonderful experience," she added. "I was shocked when I won."

She faced sexism in Hollywood

When Barbara Eden decided to take her skills to Hollywood, she had to deal with misogyny from the industry — especially when it came to her body.

"When I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Los Angeles an introduction to a talent scout at Warner Brothers came my way," she told The Sydney Morning Herald. "After asking about my drama training, he produced a picture of his daughter and said, 'See, honey, that's what you need. Big t**s!'" Eden recalled that the crude advice "broke [her] heart," but she tried to stay optimistic about her career. "I put it in perspective and realized that not every part is written for a big-busted woman — so I decided to be a character actress."

As she told The Spokesman-Review in 1989, however, the story had an unexpected ending: Eden saw that same agent on the Warner Bros. lot about half a year after he brutally told her to "go home" because of her figure. "He asked me who I was. I told him, and he didn't remember me," the actor recalled, adding that the Hollywood scout had a completely different reaction this time. "He said, 'We're going to screen test you. You're going somewhere.' So I always try to remember that — to have faith in yourself, because things aren't always what they seem."

Her boyfriend's attempted suicide

As Barbara Eden's career took off, her friends and managers encouraged her to start dating other actors. As she revealed in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, she agreed to be set up on a "blind date" with Michael Ansara, a star of the hit TV show "Broken Arrow," and the pair formed an instant connection. "I fell madly in love, as he was a kind man and a wonderful actor," she recalled.

But Eden had a boyfriend already: a refrigerator deliveryman named Tony who didn't take the news well when she told him that she wanted to break up. He became so unstable that Eden had to ban him from the lot where she worked, according to her memoir. When she received an alarming phone call from him one night, Eden and her future husband Ansara raced over to save Tony from a suicide attempt. "To our great relief, Tony ultimately survived," she wrote. "But from that night on, I viewed Michael with new respect."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Barbara Eden claims that she was harassed by Desi Arnaz

They say that you should never meet your heroes, and Barbara Eden learned that lesson early in her television career. While guest starring on "I Love Lucy," the "world-class philanderer" Desi Arnaz, as Eden described him in "Jeannie Out of the Bottle," allegedly pursued her so aggressively that she had to literally "hide from him."

"Now, I'm not a prude, but as far as I've always been concerned, married men are completely out of bounds to me," the actor wrote in her memoir, adding that she avoided any romantic entanglements on set anyway. "Desi seemed to pop up wherever I was during rehearsal. My solution? To hide from him whenever I saw him coming." Luckily, Arnaz seemed to get the message and acted like "a complete gentleman" by the time they finally shot their dancing scene together, to Eden's relief.

She still had a positive working relationship with Arnaz's wife Lucille Ball, who liked her comedy timing and reportedly considered putting her under contract. "Of course, I was in awe," Eden told the Television Academy, admitting that she was "a little worried" about appearing on Ball's show. "But she was so kind." The comedy icon even invited Eden into her dressing room and helped the younger actor with her dress, adding sparkles so that it would look better on-screen during the dancing scene. "I don't know many stars that would do that," Eden added.

Larry Hagman's alcoholism

They might have been one of the most iconic pairings in sitcom history, but Barbara Eden had to fight for her co-star Larry Hagman to stay on "I Dream of Jeannie" after his alcoholism worsened behind the scenes. "He was very unhappy, in the show, [but] the minute we'd get in front of the camera he was there. He was awake, he was there and he was doing it," she insisted in an interview with Studio 10, recalling how she argued with producers who threatened to fire Hagman. "He was wonderful in that part. It would have been a huge mistake. I'm sorry for him because he didn't like doing it, but he thanked me for saving his house!"

As Eden told The Sydney Morning Herald, the sitcom's writing might have contributed to Hagman's unhappiness. "When the cameras rolled my co-star Larry Hagman was wonderful but he despised the scripts," Eden revealed, adding that at one point he even dramatically showed his contempt for them by urinating on one. "At that time Larry was drinking and taking diet pills — he really wasn't himself," she clarified.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Barbara Eden miscarried her second baby

In 1971, tragedy struck when Barbara Eden lost her second child. "It was awful," she told People, revealing that she had carried her baby "for almost eight months before the doctors told me he had died in the womb." Despite the medical emergency, the actor returned to work right away, feeling "numb."

"You just deal with everything every day," Eden recalled, adding that she "lost a lot of weight." Her mental health had also taken a hit, but she had no idea that her unhappiness could be attributed to postpartum depression. "I'd come home and look at my little boy who's adorable and think, 'I'm so lucky. I have this sweet child. I have a husband who loves me. What's wrong with me?' And nobody told me what was wrong with me," she remembered. She explained that she didn't seek help because seeing psychiatrists wasn't a common practice at the time.

As the sitcom star told The Sydney Morning Herald, the hidden trauma from her miscarriage affected her marriage to Michael Ansara. "My deep depression destroyed our relationship," Eden admitted.

Inside Barbara Eden and Michael Ansara's divorce

Although Barbara Eden's marriage to Michael Ansara lasted fifteen years, the miscarriage of her child was too traumatic for it to survive in the end. "Michael and I did try to talk about our marital problems, but every time we talked, the chasm between us grew deeper," she revealed in "Jeannie Out of the Bottle." Eden finally asked for a divorce, which shocked the "angry and bewildered" Ansara, and they were separated by 1973.

As The Spokesman-Review reported, Eden was particularly heartbroken when she got remarried and left California to live with her new husband in Chicago, since the relocation meant that her ex-husband now had custody of their son, Matthew. "I cried a lot," she admitted, reflecting on the time spent away from her child. And Matthew was deeply affected by the split, as Eden found out years later.

"I still regret our divorce, because the repercussions it would one day have on Matthew would turn out to be cataclysmic," she wrote in her memoir. "Had I been able to look into a crystal ball at that time, I would have stayed in the marriage until Matthew was an adult. But I didn't."

Her second marriage failed

Barbara Eden's second marriage didn't last long. "When I met Chuck Fegert in 1977 I was lonely. He was handsome, intelligent and initially loads of fun," she told The Sydney Morning Herald, recalling how Fegert, who worked in marketing, swept her off her feet after the heartbreak of her first divorce. She received a nasty shock after eight months together, however: he was still married.

According to her memoir, she had no clue that he had a wife throughout the beginning of their relationship. Fegert managed to persuade Eden that it didn't matter since he was getting a divorce anyway, but her mother never really forgave him — even though he did his best to charm her with his salesman skills. And there were other problems with her husband, as she observed later, like his need for attention and fame. "Once we married he began to run with a crowd that drank and used cocaine," the actor revealed in her interview with The Sydney Morning Herald. "He then became abusive, so I left."

Her son's addiction struggles

When Barbara Eden returned to Los Angeles in 1983, she was met by a nasty shock: her son Matthew Ansara was now unrecognizable. "He wasn't the happy warm boy that I'd known," Eden told ABC News, revealing that Matthew had been hiding a secret drug addiction from his parents for years. But the actor didn't realize the truth about her son's hidden battle. "We didn't know any better," she reflected.

After Matthew turned 19, his famous mother found out that he had been using drugs since age 10. "It should never have happened," she later told The Sydney Morning Herald, revealing that "a man in our San Fernando Valley neighborhood" first introduced her son to marijuana, which he had been growing himself and sharing with local kids. Even years later, the actor still found this fact painful. "At no time should drugs be available to children," Eden insisted.

She joined forces with her ex-husband Michael Ansara to tackle the problem by sending Matthew to rehab, but her son's addiction wasn't easily solved.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Barbara Eden's son became homeless

Barbara Eden spent 14 years dealing with her son Matthew Ansara's multiple stays in rehab, as she told People. "At first we didn't recognize the behavior — the sleeping and the bouts of anger that would come up all of a sudden with this charming, darling boy," the actor recalled, adding that she was "scared to death" by the mood swings that her son's addiction caused. "I didn't know what to do," she admitted. "He was too young to know he needed rehab or help."

Eden eventually turned to tough love. "He was told he did not have a home with me if he was going to use drugs, he had to leave," she admitted to ABC News. "And he left! His father and I were frantic. We were looking for him everywhere." Matthew ended up "sleeping on the streets," as his mother recalled, becoming homeless for periods of time. "I would always bring him food," she added. "I wanted to see my son, but I didn't trust him."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Her mother's lung cancer

Barbara Eden was always close to her "very stylish" mother, who was the credit manager at a jewelry store and prided herself on dressing well. She even inspired Eden to start singing as a young child. "Each night, we'd do dishes and she'd sing Gilbert and Sullivan ditties," the actor told The Sydney Morning Herald, recalling her early memories of family life. "I'd join in and, through her, developed a passion for singing. She always encouraged me and I knew she was there for me."

Years later, Eden's mother was sadly diagnosed with lung cancer and died in 1986. "That final illness was cruelly drawn out and caused her a great deal of pain and suffering," the sitcom star revealed in her memoir, adding that her normally serene mother had hidden the disease for a while. "I later learned through one of her friends that she had been having difficulty breathing at night for a very long time beforehand, but she continued to ignore her symptoms, and never gave me a clue, either," she wrote.

"My guess is that she simply followed her own dictate and rose right above it — until, of course, it was impossible for her to do so anymore," Eden observed.

The tragic death of Barbara Eden's son

The defining tragedy of Barbara Eden's life came in 2001 when her son died from a heroin overdose. Matthew Ansara had been sober for a while and was working as a bodybuilder at the time. He had also gotten engaged to his girlfriend. "Apparently he had taken a hit of heroin and he hadn't had it in quite a while, I guess," Eden told ABC News. "It killed him. It stopped his heart."

This loss was absolutely crushing for the former sitcom star, who found Matthew's dependence on drugs "inexplicable" and partially blamed herself. "I don't think there's anything worse than to lose your child. As a parent, I had a lot of guilt and anger," she later admitted to People, adding that she was "always on the edge of tears" for a long time.

"I began to speak with parents who were going through the same thing," she recalled. "I think parents should know that it's not a bad thing to be strict with your child. If you know what's going on, you have a chance to help. Ultimately it's up to them, but there's hope." Eden also reflected on her son, remarking that Matthew was a "beautiful human being, inside and out" when he was sober. "Even though he was 35, he was still my baby."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).