Tragic Details About The Cast Of Married... With Children

The following article contains references to suicide, addiction, and death.

Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage: such was the ironic mantra of irreverent '80s and '90s sitcom "Married... With Children," one that was pivotal in popularizing cynicism within mainstream comedy narratives. While a show like "The Simpsons" was renowned for sardonic observations in its '90s heyday, the storylines still relied heavily on sentimentality and traditional family values (both shows came out on the fledgling Fox Network). "Married... With Children," on the other hand, omitted all sentiment and pathos from the plot. The show dispelled notions of the idealized all-American nuclear family and each week gave its viewers a glaring message: the Protestant work ethic doesn't, well, work.

Proving extremely popular with the public, it remained one of Fox's highest rated shows. As a result, the series made stars out of the Bundy family's four main players: Ed O'Neill, Katey Sagal, Christina Applegate, and David Faustino. But the entertainment industry is nothing if not fickle and while a number of the aforementioned stars have enjoyed prosperous post-"Married... With Children" careers, fame and riches were not everlasting for others.

Some of the show's actors struggled with financial woes and drug misuse, while others faced harrowing loss. These beloved stars are resilient to say the least. Get the hankies ready as we delve into tragic details about the cast of "Married... With Children."

Katey Sagal's dad died in a tragic accident

Peg Bundy was arguably the ultimate challenge to the domestic goddess trope. The veritable character was always quick to dish out the barbed jibes at her chauvinistic husband as she enjoyed a life of leisure. Katey Sagal embodied Peg with panache and zeal. But behind the snazzy leopard print outfits and outrageous bouffant lay a deep sadness.

Katey is the daughter of director Boris Sagal. In 1981, he was tragically killed in a helicopter accident when filming the TV movie "World War III," per UPI. At one point, he turned towards the rear of the helicopter, where he was caught up in its blades and severely injured. He died several hours later, aged 57.

Reflecting on the loss, Katey told ABC News that she was shocked when she heard of her father's death, as she had only spoken to him the day before. She details her dad's horrific last moments in her memoir, "Grace Notes." Tragically, she did not get to see him in hospital before he died; by the time she had arrived in Oregon, where he was hospitalized, he succumbed to his injuries. "The whole thing was surreal," she wrote. "Just like that, he was gone, just as he and I were starting to get to know each other." Despite the magnitude of the loss, Sagal has been able to find comfort through the realization that her father is always with her. "I have become him in so many ways. Truly, daddy's girl," she reflected.

Christina Applegate had cancer

As Kelly Bundy, Christina Applegate personified peroxide blond '90s chic, becoming one of many it-girls of the era. Every episode, she garnered rapturous applause from the studio audience (and perhaps one too many instances of sexist hooting). Applegate played Kelly with aplomb, even when faced with some of the cruder put-downs directed at the character.

In 2008, eleven years after "Married... With Children" ended, a then 36-year-old Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. "It can be very painful," she told Oprah Winfrey. "It's also a part of you that's gone, so you go through a grieving process and a mourning process." Applegate's mom, actor Nancy Priddy, is also a breast cancer survivor and a carrier of the BRCA gene. Poignantly, Applegate decided to take some nude photos prior to having her breasts removed. "[S]o I can kind of remember them," she said.

Unfortunately, the invasive surgery did not end there for Applegate. In 2017, she revealed to Today that she'd elected to have her fallopian tubes and ovaries removed, noting that her cousin died of ovarian cancer. She told the outlet that she fears for her daughter's future; due to the BRCA gene, Applegate revealed, "The chances that my daughter is BRCA positive are very high... It breaks my heart to think that's a possibility." Applegate is now cancer-free and raising awareness of the disease via Right Action for Women, per Elle.

David Faustino's money woes

Poor Bud was always the butt of the joke on "Married... With Children." Despite his intelligence, the perennially single teen just couldn't catch a break. Since playing Bud, David Faustino's career has ebbed and flowed, appearing in bit parts on TV shows, and truly cementing his typecast status with a stint on series "Celebrity Boot Camp" in 2002. In the reality show, he was frequently referred to as "Bud Bundy" by mocking drill instructors.

One might assume Faustino would be set for life thanks to the sitcom, but that isn't exactly the case. He told Access in 2009 that he receives zero residuals from "Married... With Children." "We got really screwed over," Faustino said. "I mean, the show... was on for 11 years, and we all made really good money while we were doing it... But residuals — we all got screwed over." This was due to the fact that Fox, then being a cable channel and thus under a cable contract, was not obliged to pay residuals. "'Married... With Children' has made over a billion dollars, and we didn't really get a piece of that," Faustino conceded.

Though he hasn't landed any other megahit sitcoms since "Married... With Children," Faustino has kept working. He has a number of voice acting credits, he hosted a radio show called "Old Scratch Radio," and per The New York Times, he and fellow TV star Corin Nemec star in the "Curb Your Enthusiasm"-esque web series, "Star-ving."

Ed O'Neill's family struggled financially

There's perhaps no sitcom character who encapsulates the misery of working a job you hate better than Al Bundy. While Ed O'Neill earned big bucks for the role, and later raked in more dollars for "Modern Family," his early life was anything but prosperous. As O'Neill explained to Wealth Simple, he was raised in a working class family in Ohio. "We lived in a ramshackle apartment building... between the train tracks and public housing projects," he said. Both of his parents worked, but money was tight, and as O'Neill said in Wealth Simple, it wasn't always a given that they'd be able to afford basic necessities like utilities. 

His father worked in his hometown's steel mill, and O'Neill eventually began working there, too. The gig was tough; the conditions in the mill were hazardous at best. "You could only stay inside a furnace for five minutes at a stretch, because you'd literally catch on fire," he divulged. "You could feel the graphite in the air singeing your lungs."

Discussing his upbringing in an interview with Capital and Main, O'Neill revealed that his time on the mill highlighted to him the importance of unionization. Having faced unemployment after a brief stint as a footballer, he decided to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. "You had to assert yourself, because otherwise they weren't gonna give anything to you... So, I've always been, in my heart of hearts, a teamster, a union guy," he mused.

Katey Sagal overcame drug and alcohol addiction

In her memoir, "Grace Notes," Katey Sagal opened up about her history of alcohol and drug use. She recalled befriending Lorna Luft, daughter of Judy Garland, when she was a kid, and claimed that the two of them would take their mothers' prescription pills. It was not long before she didn't have to swipe someone else's meds. "When I was fourteen, our family doctor prescribed me diet pills, and so I had pills of my own," she wrote. "I got the message: if you feel bad, take a pill."

Of course, this lifestyle was unsustainable and Sagal soon came to terms with her struggles with addiction. As she recalled to ABC News, it was thanks to an encounter with someone in recovery on a TV set that she decided to get sober. Suddenly, she realized that sobriety, something she had long deemed an impossibility, was a reality entirely within her grasp.

Speaking with Bustle, Sagal revealed that the death of her father motivated her to try to quit drugs and alcohol. Then, just two months after getting clean, she scored the role of Peg Bundy on "Married... With Children." "I stayed sober, and watched all the people around me, and I learned how to do what I do now," she told the outlet. She has now been sober for over 30 years.

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).

Katey Sagal's mom died young

Katey Sagal's mother lived with heart disease for many years and these health struggles would be the cause of immense pain for both herself and her daughter. In her memoir, Sagal reflected on the agony of witnessing her mother, Sara Zwilling, suffer from the disease. "Even then as a teenager, I knew there was only so much I could do; that hers was a fragile life, and that it was only a matter of time before there would be an exit," she wrote in a harrowing admission. Tragically, Zwilling's health struggles led to her attempting suicide on more than one occasion. Then, when Sagal was just 21 years old, her adolescent sisters discovered that Zwilling had died in her sleep from a heart attack. However, Sagal believes that her mom actually died by suicide, hypothesizing that the family doctor may have claimed Zwilling's heart condition was the cause of death as a way of sparing her and her sisters' feelings. 

According to Find A Grave, Zwilling was just 48 when she died. Sagal told ABC News that since her mom had been sick for a long time, her death, while devastating, wasn't that surprising. Just six years later, she would lose her father, too.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Sagal said that writing her memoir was beneficial to re-evaluating her relationship with her parents and learning to truly appreciate them. "It allowed me to miss them... To revisit them is just a way for me to acknowledge how much I love and miss them," she reflected.

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

Christina Applegate has a chronic illness

There once was a time when pervasive disability discrimination meant that stars had to keep their health diagnoses secret. For instance, Michael J. Fox attempted to disguise his Parkinson's disease for seven years, out of fear of losing work, per The Guardian. Due to widespread efforts to destigmatize disabilities, many celebs are opening up about living with chronic illnesses.

Having survived cancer, Christina Applegate was faced with yet another illness over a decade later. In 2021, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which is a neurological disease usually diagnosed in young adults, according to a 2018 study. The illness causes pain and mobility problems, though severity varies. On Twitter, Applegate reflected on her diagnosis with good humor. "It's been a strange journey," she shared. "But I have been so supported by people that I know who also have this condition. It's been a tough road. But as we all know, the road keeps going. Unless some a**hole blocks it."

She sought comfort in another actor living with MS: Selma Blair. "Loving you always. Always here," Blair wrote to Applegate. "As are our kids. Beating us up with love." During a twitter Q&A with fans, Applegate opened up about her illness and pondered the fact that both she and Blair, her co-star in 2002 comedy "The Sweetest Thing," have MS. Recalling the great time she had on set with Blair, she conceded that it was "Sad both of us have Ms."

Katey Sagal had a stillbirth during filming

In Season 6 of "Married... With Children," both Peg and her neighbor Marcy announced they were pregnant, much to everyone's surprise. The writers decided on this storyline for Peg because Katey Sagal became pregnant in 1991. However, the plotline was soon revealed to be a dream in the episode "Al Bundy, Shoe Dick," per the Los Angeles Times. This decision was due to the writers paying respect to Sagal, who ended up suffering a stillbirth during filming.

During an appearance on "The View," she opened up about the intense guilt she felt after the tragedy. "It was a very difficult thing. I lost a child at almost eight months ... I just couldn't let go of the control, of somehow I had done something wrong," she said. She revealed that the loss took a toll on her mental health and she struggled to leave the house afterwards. A year later, she was able to regain control over her life thanks to some wise words offered by a Buddhist friend. "Sometimes we have these little souls that come in and out," the friend philosophized, "and that their mission is completed."

When Sagal released her debut album, "Well..." in 1994, she paid tribute to the baby she lost on the song "Can't Hurry the Harvest," per the book "Stillborn: Celebrities Who Have Suffered Infant Loss." The song contains the tear-jerking lyrics, "You took so much of me/ Oh my darling, my little one/ Did it have to be this way?"

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Some of the supporting actors died from cancer

Tragically, a number of "Married... With Children's" wacky ensemble players died before their time. Buck the dog was always the sagacious voice of reason amid the chaos and dysfunction of the Bundy household. Although sometimes voiced by Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong fame, he was usually voiced by show writer Kevin Curran, per The New York Times. In addition to "Married... With Children," Curran wrote for another irreverent sitcom that poked fun at the American Dream: "The Simpsons." Sadly, Curran died of complications from cancer in 2016. He was 59.

Likewise, Diana Bellamy, who depicted frequent shoe store customer Shirley, played a pivotal role on the series. While the character was often mocked by the disgruntled shoe salesman, Shirley gave the sexist protagonist a run for his money, throwing the barbs back as quickly as he dished them out. In 2001, Bellamy died of cancer at the age of 57, per the Los Angeles Times. Prior to her death, she had been living with blindness, a complication of the cancer, though she viewed her disability with optimism. "I had tried crying and being in a snit about [blindness]," the character actor quipped, "but that was real boring."

Per USA Today, one of the show's most memorable guest stars, original "Glow" wrestler Beckie Mullen, died in 2020, again from cancer. She was just 55. Famously, Mullen appeared in Al's dream sequence wrestling a young Pamela Anderson in Season 5's "Al... with Kelly."

David Faustino was arrested on drug charges

Much of Bud Bundy's comedic escapades were based around the hapless teen's attempts to be a "bad boy," despite his high achievement at school and a clean-cut reputation (he famously rebranded himself as self-styled rap god Grandmaster B). While Bud was a (usually) law-abiding citizen, David Faustino found himself on the wrong side of the law in 2007.

Per Access, Faustino and his wife were pulled over by cops, and the officers found marijuana in his possession. He was also believed to have been driving under the influence. CBS News offered further information into the arrest. Reportedly, Faustino attempted to evade capture by the police by jumping out of his car, but was eventually caught and sent to jail. His charges included disorderly intoxication.

As reported by Fox News, the charges were dropped once Faustino completed a drug treatment program. "He received no special treatment from the State Attorney's Office," Faustino's attorney said. "He did what was asked of him, and he fulfilled all of his conditions." In an interview with The New York Times two years after his arrest, Faustino said he still smoked weed, but that's the long and short of it. "They just offered me 'Celebrity Rehab...' I don't want to go on TV and spill my guts," he told the outlet, noting that the offer made little sense since he did not struggle with addiction.

Katey Sagal was devastated by the death of her friend

After "Married... With Children," Katey Sagal enjoyed further sitcom fame on "8 Simple Rules." Soon, however, tragedy would strike. In 2003, Sagal's onscreen husband, comedy mainstay John Ritter, began feeling unwell while rehearsing on set, per Today. After vomiting profusely, he was sent to the emergency room and died soon after, at the age of 54. 

Although his death was deemed a heart attack, the actor's widow, Amy Yasbeck, believed that it could have been prevented. Yasbeck claimed that doctors had misinterpreted Ritter's medical results, leading to his untimely death. Accordingly, she filed a lawsuit. As reported by People, Sagal was devastated by Ritter's passing and testified in his wrongful death trial. "I loved John," she told the jury as she wept. Per E! News, the doctors were ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.

Thereafter, Ritter's death was poignantly written into "8 Simple Rules," showing both the cast and the Hennessy family dealing in real time with the tragic loss. Opening up about her friend's passing, Sagal told EW that she was grateful for being given the opportunity to grieve onscreen, stating that it wouldn't have felt right to continue with the show without addressing the tragedy. "What I loved about that job was John Ritter. John was an amazing person," she reflected. "I'll never forget when I had to audition for that job... John whispered to me while I was in there, 'You're my favorite. You're the one I want.' Which was so, so sweet."