Stars From Married... With Children You Didn't Know Died

Let's face it, any sitcom about a family sharing a surname with a notorious serial killer is going to be dark. But for those craving that type of humor, "Married... With Children," which chronicled the uncouth lives of the morally impoverished Bundys, was the perfect antidote for the more wholesome family fare of "Full House" and "Growing Pains." That irreverence, injected with heavy doses of rapier wit, worked well enough to give the still-nascent Fox Network one of its first hit shows, while delivering tons of toxicity to eager fans for 11 seasons starting in 1987. 

Often veering dangerously close to R-rated territory for its sexually-suggestive and politically-incorrect content, "Married... with Children" starred Ed O'Neill as Al, a bitter shoe salesman, Katey Sagal as his sardonic wife Peg, Christina Applegate as promiscuous airhead daughter Kelly, and David Faustino as wisecracking potential failure-to-launch son Bud. Long after the show ended, much of the cast have since prospered in other ventures and are still alive today, although fans were shocked after hearing Applegate was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis

The majority of the guest stars seen on the show over the years are also still around. But some of them have since passed on, from veteran actors in the twilight of their careers to upstarts who grabbed the spotlight in later years. Here's a look at some of the more popular personalities no longer with us who briefly shared the screen with a family that put the "fun" into "dysfunctional."

Michael Clarke Duncan (1957-2012)

Michael Clarke Duncan demonstrated more muscle than memorable lines in his brief cameo as a bouncer in one "Married... with Children" episode, but it helped get his gigantic foot in the door. The former construction worker and bodyguard first got into acting via a brief episode appearance in the '90s drama "Renegade" leading to more cameos on shows like "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and even the occasional commercial. But his fortunes improved when he played burly and sensitive roughneck Bear in the 1998 Michael Bay-directed thriller "Armageddon," a box office blockbuster that earned over $500 million worldwide. A year later, Duncan's star shot even higher when he portrayed death row inmate John Coffey in the drama "The Green Mile," which earned the actor a supporting actor Oscar nomination.

Years later, Duncan would show off his comedic chops — albeit with an intimidating presence –  in movies like "Talladega Nights" and TV outings like "Two And A Half Men," in which he played a retired NFL player. Shortly after starting a relationship with reality TV star Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, the 54-year-old actor died of a heart attack. "I am terribly saddened at the loss of Big Mike," said actor Tom Hanks who shared screen time with Duncan in "The Green Mile" to ET. "He was the treasure we all discovered on the set of 'The Green Mile.' He was magic. He was a big love of man and his passing leaves us stunned."

Gary Coleman (1968-2010)

Sometimes, "Married... with Children" would bring on a major star just to provide that guest celebrity an opportunity to play against type. So when the show handed former "Diff'rent Strokes" child star Gary Coleman that proverbial football, he gleefully ran with it. Playing a building inspector, he shared one hilarious scene with Al, about to mention his resemblance to Arnold Jackson, the "Diff'rent Strokes"character Coleman had played. "Don't even ask, I'm not him," he coldly replied on the show. "I've never been him. I can't even stand the little creep."

Coleman literally couldn't outgrow the role that made him famous. An autoimmunity disability at birth limited his height to four feet, eight inches, and required constant medical treatment, including heart surgery and two kidney transplants. His short, child-like stature, even when he became an adult, limited his acting potential, rendering him to cameo appearances on shows like "The Simpsons" and "The Drew Carey Show." 

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Coleman was making $2.5 million annually at the height of his fame, but lost a fair chunk of it to taxes, medical bills, lawyers and a trust issue with his parents and other handlers whom he accused of misappropriating his assets. He won some of his earnings back in a lawsuit, but still worked as a security guard to make ends meet. In the end, the 42-year-old actor was worth $75,000 when he died of a brain hemorrhage.

Tim Conway (1933-2019)

It's a given that folks seeking fame and fortune in Hollywood usually have the top of the marquee in their sights when starting out. Tim Conway, a brilliant and prolific supporting actor, was a hilarious exception. Billed by the Las Vegas Sun as "the best second banana in the business," Conway was arguably the funniest talent on "The Carol Burnett Show," often ad-libbing his lines to the point where he'd leave the onstage cast in stitches. It's little wonder that "Married... with Children" enlisted his comedic skills to play the recurring role of farmer Ephraim Wanker, father to Peg Bundy. Unlike other comic actors, Conway eschewed the glib route, preferring an understated, low-key execution that would take viewers by surprise with a killer improv line, a quality that nabbed him four Emmys for "Carol Burnett,"  and one each for cameos in "Coach" and "30 Rock." 

Before all that adulation, Conway first made a name for himself in several Disney movies and as an inept ensign on "McHale's Navy." In later life, he'd accept an arsenal of offers to guest star in shows like "Diagnosis Murder," "Mad About You," "Mike and Molly," and contribute voices to "The Simpsons" and "SpongeBob SquarePants." He also regularly appeared on Las Vegas stages with Harvey Korman, his old "Carol Burnett" cohort. Conway died at 85 from water on the brain. "He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being," said Burnett (via Variety).

Dom DeLuise (1933-2009)

Probably one of the more restrained projects ever taken by Dom DeLuise was providing the voice for Floyd the Dog in one episode of "Married... with Children." It's a marked contrast to the star's reputation for going out of control on a movie set, with the cast and crew bent over in hysterical guffaws with such regularity that production usually went behind schedule. Said producer Mel Brooks (best known for groundbreaking movie comedies from "The Producers" to "Blazing Saddles") to The Los Angeles Times, "[He] created so much joy and laughter on the set that you couldn't get your work done. So every time I made a movie with Dom, I would plan another two days on the schedule just for laughter."

Folks would be hard-pressed to find a DeLuise appearance on TV or the big screen where he wasn't loud, vibrant, and over the top, especially on a Brooks set or both "Cannonball Run" comedies starring Burt Reynolds, one of DeLuise's best friends. Fans would have to go back to the early '60s to find those rarities, such as a minor role he had in the Cold War drama "Fail Safe." He showed more of his hilarious colors when a producer of "The Dean Martin Show" told him not to hold back on his penchant for improv. "I was allowed to ad-lib a great deal with Dean," said DeLuise in an earlier interview with the Los Angeles Times. He died at 75 of kidney failure.

Kathleen Freeman (1923-2001)

Credit a few sitcoms for adding an element of intrigue to their cast lineups that included actors who were never seen but heard. The TV landscape is dotted with memorable disembodied voices from Carlton the Doorman (played by actor Lorenzo Music, who would later do the voice-over for "Garfield") from the '70s series "Rhoda" to Debbie Wolowitz, Howard's mom on "The Big Bang Theory." Add to that unique list Kathleen Freeman, who played Mrs. Wanker, Peg's mom, in five episodes of "Married... with Children," and whose obesity was frequently a target for Al Bundy in several other installments of the series.

Coincidentally, Freeman's best known for her voice coach role in the 1951 classic "Singin' In the Rain," although her output was far more prolific as a staunch foil to comedian Jerry Lewis in 10 movies including "The Patsy" and "Hook, Line and Sinker." She's made appearances in more than 100 TV and movie outings, although many of her roles were uncredited in the 1950s. That status gradually changed, when she garnered a reputation as a character actor, landing several TV roles, including six episodes of "The Beverly Hillbillies" and five spots in "Growing Pains." 

Movies include portrayals in "The Sting," "Joe Dirt," and the memorable Sister Mary Stigmata in "The Blues Brothers" and its sequel "Blues Brothers 2000." She also lent her voice to such animated projects as "Cow and Chicken" and "Shrek." Freeman was 78 when she died of lung cancer.

Waylon Jennings (1937-2002)

Despite its success, "Married... with Children" still bore a pariah stigma among TV sitcoms, so it made sense that the show would open its doors to folks with similar outlaw reputations. Few carried that designation more vividly than country singer Waylon Jennings, whose hits "I've Always Been Crazy" and "Honky Tonk Heroes," dominated radio in the '60s and '70s. With a grizzled scowl, Jennings played local music hero Ironhead Haynes in one episode. As evidence of his defiant demeanor, he played one tune: a five-second, one-chord ditty with him singing "Darlings," the only lyric in the piece. That was his only appearance on the show, although the fictitious country act The Wanker Triplets did sing one of his hits, "Good Hearted Woman" in another installment.

Despite recording 15 number-one hits, Jennings was legendary for thumbing his nose at the Nashville establishment. "It was all formula," he said on NPR about country music's commercial mentality. "It was like cookie cutters, you know, everything you did." He seldom worked on TV, aside from voicing his animated likeness in "Family Guy" and narrating for the southern-fried drama "The Dukes of Hazzard," which used his tune "Good Ol' Boys" as its theme song. 

Unlike most folkloric outlaws, Jennings passed away peacefully at the age of 64 from a diabetes-related illness. Labels issued several live shows recorded posthumously for television, including "American Revolutions: The Highwaymen" featuring Jennings in a country supergroup with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson.

Sam Kinison (1953-1992)

The experience of watching "Married... with Children" was hardly a Sunday drive compared to most family sitcoms. It was more pedal-to-the-metal, threatening to turn into a Daytona 500 pileup, an ideal setting for high-octane comedian Sam Kinison. Renowned on the comedy circuit for turning standup into metaphorical smashups, Kinison punctuated his punchlines with rage that delighted diehards and terrified others unaccustomed to his onstage fury. A former preacher before he switched professions, Kinison played an unlikely guardian angel in one episode that satirized the Yuletide movie classic "It's A Wonderful Life." Trying to offer some advice to Al, down on his luck, Kinison's character amped up his temper after sharing anecdotes of his own hard-luck life. "I hated driving home so much," he said at one point, "I had vanity plates that said HIT ME."

His risqué humor notwithstanding, Kinison thought the transition from preacher to comedian seemed logical. "If you can make people laugh in church, you can make them laugh anywhere," he said to Larry King on CNN. While earning two gold records and the privilege of pocketing as much as $50,000 for an engagement, his life was nowhere near as holy. According to Entertainment Weekly, Kinison indulged heavily into cocaine and alcohol, although towards the end, he claimed that he was cutting down on those substances. Still, his life in the fast lane ended quickly in a fatal car collision at the age of 38.

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).

Tawny Kitaen (1961-2021)

When it came to delivering sexual innuendo for the sake of a few titters, "Married... with Children" ensured all its comedic reservoirs were overflowing with double entendres and scantily-clad characters galore. And few guest stars came equipped to dog paddle in those proverbial tanks than Tawny Kitaen. Her sole appearance was as a lingerie model who finagles a free pair of shoes from Al's store, only to fracture her leg on live television when the footwear's heel inexplicably breaks off. Kitaen delivered no zinger lines in that episode, but then, she didn't have to.

The San Diego native got into showbiz via modeling, leading to bit parts in tawdry made-for-TV beach movies before landing roles in the daytime drama "Santa Barbara" and a '90s reboot of the classic radio sitcom "WKRP In Cincinnati." She also found work in movies like "Happy Hour" and "Witchboard," but her biggest flick had to be the 1984 comedy "Bachelor Party," playing a fiancée betrothed to Tom Hanks in what was his first big movie. 

However, '80s metal fans would remember Kitaen differently, since she posed on album covers and became eye candy fodder in videos by hair-farming acts like RATT and Whitesnake. The latter band was no accident, since at the time she was married to lead singer David Coverdale. Kitaen died at 59, although the cause wasn't known until months later. According to People, a heart ailment known as dilated cardiomyopathy was responsible for her death.

B.B. King (1925-2015)

Life in the Bundy household was hardly sunshine and lollipops, with two undisciplined children, a father who believed he was a failure and a wife who reinforced that notion. Fortunately, guitarist and singer B.B. King offered a cure for the Bundy blues. In a fifth-season episode, the blues legend played a street musician and as part of his appearance, even played one of his hits, "Blues For A Dog," fittingly while two pups scurried past him. To blues fans, seeing the legendary musician on the show was a real treat, since the musician (who also had stints in "Blossom" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air") seldom worked on sitcoms. And while recorded concerts dominate much of King's filmography, he did make rare appearances in such flicks as "Blues Brothers 2000." 

A winner of 15 Grammy Awards and best known for hits "The Thrill Is Gone," "Everyday I Have The Blues," and "3 O'Clock Blues," King put out more than 50 albums in his lifetime and toured relentlessly, averaging 250 dates a year, even playing past most folks' retirement age. For his efforts, he's been inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, immortalizing a musical giant who's inspired scores of guitar heroes that include Eric Clapton and George Harrison. 

King died in his sleep after a Las Vegas gig at the age of 89. Coroners determined that several strokes associated with type 2 diabetes were the cause of death.

Pat Morita (1932-2005)

Japanese-American actor Noriyuki "Pat" Morita set the bar for Asian representation in Hollywood, but one appearance on "Married... with Children" contrasted his reputation for playing wise and dignified characters. In the episode, Morita played a stern bank executive, whom his subordinate and Bundy neighbor Marcy D'Arcy wanted to impress for the sake of a promotion. The role was certainly a far cry from his more familiar portrayals from fast food proprietor Arnold from the sitcom "Happy Days" to martial arts guru Kesuke Miyagi in two "Karate Kid" movies, one of which earned him an Oscar nomination.

All of that success sounds like just desserts for California native Morita, who endured a difficult childhood, first diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis and then spending part of his childhood in an internment camp during the Second World War. A computer employee for a time, Morita switched to showbiz, first landing a part in the Japanese movie "Car Thieves" and eventually scoring small roles on primetime shows from "Green Acres" to "Columbo." 

Recurring portrayals on sitcoms "M*A*S*H" and "Sanford and Son" led to more secure stints as Arnold and Miyagi, after which played the lead in a short-lived cop show called "Ohara" and scored dozens of TV appearances and video game voice-overs. At 73, Morita died from what People reported as "complications from alcoholism."

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).

Bubba Smith (1945-2011)

His birth certificate might have read "Charles Aaron Smith" but fans of the gridiron athlete were more likely to call him "Bubba," who played brawny law enforcer Moses Hightower in the "Police Academy" film franchise. Smith also scored two hilarious appearances in "Married... with Children," first as a vengeful security guard still angry over his high school team losing to Al Bundy's squad back in the day. "You never made it past that goal line," he chillingly told Bundy. "I dropped you like third-period French." Receiving greater hype was Smith's second appearance, this time with NFL great Kenny Stabler as they hosted a faux football spectacular called The Dud Bowl.

Before generating guffaws in Hollywood, Smith instilled fear into his opposition as a lineman with NFL franchises Baltimore Colts (with whom he won a Super Bowl in 1971), Oakland Raiders, and Houston Oilers for nearly a decade. His all-star status helped land parts on TV dramas like "Charlie's Angels," "Eight Is Enough," and "Wonder Woman," until tackling more comedic roles like "Police Academy" and a number of Miller Lite beer commercials

During later years, Smith revived his Hightower portrayal in a short-lived TV version of "Police Academy" in 1997, followed by low-budget films like "Full Clip" and "Blood River." Although his death at age 66 was due to drug intoxication, additional research in 2016 revealed he also suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by concussions he received during his NFL days, per ESPN.

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).

Alan Thicke (1947-2016)

It's hard to say whether anyone's ever kept records on some of the more arcane achievements of "Married... with Children" guest star characters. Chances are, however, that Alan Thicke is probably the only celebrity invitee to have dated both Peg and Kelly Bundy.  Thicke first wound up with Kelly after an ill-fated double date; his involvement with Peg occurred a season later in a three-parter when the Bundys were going through a separation.

Thicke is best known for being the patriarch in the family sitcom "Growing Pains," and an actor frequently seen in other programs, from a brief story arc in "The Bold and the Beautiful" to a recurring role playing himself in "How I Met Your Mother." But behind the scenes, he was one of the industry's busiest movers and shakers. An accomplished musician, he composed themes for such shows as "The Facts of Life" and "The Joker's Wild." He was also prolific as a writer, penning scripts for several outings from the groundbreaking fake talk show "Fernwood 2 Night" to specials hosted by such luminaries as Barry Manilow, Olivia Newton-John, and Richard Pryor. 

A native Canadian who first cut his teeth on the state-run CBC network, Thicke also enjoyed playing hockey, an activity he was enjoying with his son Carter when he suddenly died from a ruptured aorta at the age of 69. "He was the best man I ever knew," wrote son Robin Thicke in a social media post that's no longer available.

Fred Willard (1933-2020)

A master at improv and an expert in timing and execution, Fred Willard proved consistently that even bird-brain portrayals could alter an actor's flight path to greater heights. It's a gift he's deployed in hundreds of outings, including one time on "Married... with Children," when he played a shyster salesman in an episode that also showcased metal act Anthrax. Willard seldom played the lead, instead becoming such a comedic foil to top-billed stars, often stealing the show. For all that, he received five Primetime Emmy nods: three for "Everybody Loves Raymond" and two for "Modern Family." Willard won a Daytime Emmy for a story arc in the afternoon soap "The Bold and the Beautiful" back in 2015 when he was 81.

Willard came to prominence in 1977 as an idiotic sidekick on the fictitious small-town talk show "Fernwood 2 Night," leading to several TV spots and the '80s mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap," which highlighted his gift for ad-lib. In another mockumentary, his improv skills particular shone while playing a dimwitted TV announcer broadcasting a dog competition in "Best In Show." 

Willard worked tirelessly, and his stint as Phil Dunphy's father in "Modern Family" being one of his last gigs before he died at 86 from a heart attack. He still had some posthumous works to share, including some hilarious moments on the Netflix streaming sitcom "Space Force."

Tammy Wynette (1942-1998)

Regardless of where they stood on the merits of "Married... with Children," at least fans and critics alike would agree that life with the Bundys would be anything but idyllic. Still, that pales in comparison to one guest star whose own life was like a hard-done-by country song. Enter Tammy Wynette, whose own tales of hardship were preserved in controversial songs like "Stand By Your Man" and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." At least when she played herself as manager of hack duo The Juggs (consisting of Peg and Kelly) in one episode, the tearjerker queen demonstrated she had a sense of humor.

Despite her success as a legendary country music singer, her life was marked with one instance of despair after another. Writer Jimmy McDonough, who penned her biography "Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen," said that the recording artist's true talent was in transferring all that anguish into music. "In terms of a slow, sad song, nobody could rip it up like Tammy," McDonough said to NPR. "She is just unrelenting." 

During her career, Wynette scored 20 major hits and is recognized as the first country star to score a platinum record. But she also endured five marriages, including one tempestuous relationship with fellow legend George Jones. Several health issues also surfaced in later years. Her cameo in "Married... with Children" would mark the last time she'd be seen on television during her lifetime. Months later, Wynette died at 55 from a blood clot in the lungs.