The Untold Truth Of Meredith Baxter

Meredith Baxter is one of Hollywood's most beloved stars, making her mark in a series of memorable roles over the course of a five-decade-long career. She broke out in 1972 co-starring with her future husband in the hit series, "Bridget Loves Bernie." Following that, she played Nancy Maitland on the ABC drama series "Family" for five seasons, earning two consecutive Emmy nominations for her portrayal.

Baxter is best-known for her role as Elyse Keaton, mother of Michael J. Fox and Justine Bateman on 1982's "Family Ties." She earned the nickname of "America's mom," for playing that part for seven seasons, as she told The Advocate. On the big screen, Baxter appeared in "All The President's Men," and starred in many TV films. Her performance in "A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story," garnered the actor a third Emmy nod. She also played a recurring role as Kathryn Morris' alcoholic mom on "Cold Case."

From the early days of her career, Baxter tried to keep private life out of the spotlight. But as we know, tabloid rumors can turn into headline news overnight. As you will see, her life has been a far cry from her character's on "Family Ties." In fact, there were dark secrets she was hiding from everyone around her. While this story may have a Hollywood ending after all, you can expect a few twists and turns along the way.

She never felt loved as a child

Growing up in Pasadena, California, Meredith Baxter recalls her mom had one goal: to be a famous Hollywood actress. Her three children were only obstacles standing in the way. "My mother made me call her by her stage name, Whitney Blake," Baxter explained to The Chicago Tribune in 2011, later noting that Whitney wanted others to assume she was the kids' aunt or older sister, per Today.

"I wasn't allowed to call her Mom or Mommy from the time I was four or five and I'll tell you... I'm now a 63-year-old woman, and to remember that I couldn't call her Mommy and that this is still an issue for me — it's too bad. It's really too bad, " she added. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, the "Family Ties" star said not having her mother's love had an impact on every other relationship for the rest of her life.

"I had this belief system that was pivotal for how I saw myself in the world. I thought I had no value. I thought I was unloved. And I thought I was unlovable." Baxter's mom filed for divorce from her dad when she was just five years old. In an excerpt from her 2011 memoir, "Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame and Floundering,' (via Today), she wrote, "He sat my brothers and me down in the living room and said very seriously, 'When I leave, you're never going to see me again."

Faith groups slammed her breakout TV show

Meredith Baxter's breakout role was in 1972's "Bridget Loves Bernie" alongside her future husband David Birney. She played a Catholic Girl from a wealthy family who marries a Jewish cabdriver. The show was the fall's season's biggest hit, according to The New York Times. But the program was slammed by some Jewish groups for depicting marriage between Jews and Christians in a desirable way, and they urged CBS to cancel it.

"This is the sort of thing that goes directly against Jewish teachings, the sort of thing religious Jews consider anathema. Intermarriage to them is a disaster area and works inimically to the future of the Jewish people," said Rabbi Balfour Brickner, director of the Commission on Interfaith Activities of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who noted that the show makes light of what he calls "one of the gravest problems facing Jews today."

Some rabbis encouraged their congregations to boycott products of Procter & Gamble products, one of "Bridget Loves Bernie's" top sponsors, but the advertiser responded that it didn't control programming content. At the time, CBS indicated the network would side with fans who enjoy the show rather than give in to pressure from those who wanted to censor it. Without an explanation, the network pulled the plug on the popular series after 24 weeks on the air, per The New York Times.

She said her husband David Birney was abusive

Meredith Baxter was married to David Birney for fifteen years, and they shared three children, per People. In her memoir "Untied," she says her husband abused her, both physically and emotionally, and she kept it from everyone around her. "Nobody knew. It was a secret life," she told Oprah Winfrey in 2009 (via ABC News). "Nobody knew on the show at all because it was important for me to maintain some separation."

Her son Ted Bush, from her first marriage, said the abuse "wasn't physical but a constant denigration, a belittling, 'your opinion doesn't matter, you're not worthy, you're not responsible enough." Baxter said after years of suffering from low self-esteem, she was a perfect target for someone like Birney. "He was very smart and very well educated and he thought I was stupid so I thought I was stupid too. So that allowed me to stay," she told The Chicago Tribune in 2011.

Birney, who died in May 2022, denied the abuse. After going through all of that, Baxter, now married to Nancy Locke, said she was grateful to be in a better place. "It's hard to imagine, but even in the dark times, some wonderful things emerged," she said. "I have five beautiful children. I'm in a loving relationship now. I'm trying to surrender to the things I can't control. If one person hears my story and makes a better choice, it's worth it."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

She turned to drinking to numb the pain

Meredith Baxter said the strain of her relationship to David Birney took its toll, and she turned to drinking to ease the pain. "I started using alcohol as a way to manage my feelings within my marriage. I didn't know I was using it that way, it just became... it was very handy and I started drinking very openly on the set," she told Toronto Star in 2011.

Her escalating habit eventually became a dangerous one. She would drink in her dressing room before her trip home, and at one point Baxter toted a tumbler of wine between her legs while driving down L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard. "I never once thought that I was doing something wrong," she told The Chicago Tribune. "It was a terrible arrogance — the arrogance of the alcoholic. I thought I could navigate traffic — the people I put at risk. It was horrible. It's a thoughtless way of being."

Baxter has been sober for more than thirty years, but for a long time, she couldn't imagine someone like her ever needing help. "I had a picture of what an alcoholic looked like, and it didn't look like me. I hadn't lost anything. I wasn't lying in a gutter," she told The Globe and Mail in 2011. Yet, when she was drinking, she didn't think twice about stumbling onto the set and handing her glass off to an assistant as she walked in.

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).

She sought cancer treatment on her own terms

In 1994, Meredith Baxter starred in a TV movie called "My Breast," the story of a woman who makes some serious life changes after a breast cancer diagnosis. At the time, she had some misconceptions about the risk factors. "I thought you could only get it if your mother had it, and otherwise, you were fine. And that you wouldn't get it until you were over 50 anyway," she admitted to Coping in 2006.

When Baxter received her diagnosis five years later, she wanted to avoid having surgery, opting instead for an alternative treatment, which involved kinesiology and dietary changes. "At the time, I was married to someone who really would have loved to have been supportive if he'd known how," Baxter added. (She was married to Michael Blodgett at the time). "But he was really kind of caught up in the drama of him losing a breast: mine." Baxter noted that her children supported her every step of the way.

They did the research, and helped to convince her surgery was the best option, and Baxter had two lumpectomies. The founder of the Meredith Baxter Foundation for Breast Cancer Research said, "I don't know that cancer has really affected my life too much. I was kind of on a spiritual path anyway. And this just sort of embraced all of that." In 2020, the actor recalled to Page Six that the surgery was actually a relief, as she hated her enormous breasts, calling them "the plague of my life."

Baxter has a special 'tie' with co-star Michael Gross

Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross have shared a lot since "Family Ties" ended its run in 1989. The parents of the Keaton clan paired up on stage several times in "Love Letters" and played a married couple in "Naughty or Nice," a 2012 Hallmark Channel holiday film, per The Los Angeles Times. They were even born on the exact same day! While Baxter was ending her marriage, the "Grace and Frankie" alum was just starting  his.

It was Gross who helped Baxter open up about her marriage to David Birney. When he reminded her that Birney was about to return from a shoot in Europe, it was a trigger. "I burst into tears and he said, 'Oh, you must miss him so much," Baxter told Oprah (via ABC News) "I totally lost it. I was so afraid of him and he was coming back," she said. Gross explained that it really didn't click at the time why she was so afraid of her husband.

"She and David were the poster child for a marriage going well. We didn't know because she kept her mouth shut," Gross added. The "Tremors 4" star called his wife and told her he was bringing Meredith home to stay with them. "It was the first time I unloaded and told them everything that had been going on," she shared with Oprah in 2011. "Michael is the dearest man who walks the earth. He's just such a sweetheart."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Meredith Baxter said Betty Broderick 'duped' her

Baxter played Betty Broderick in the 1992 TV movie, "A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story," the story of a woman convicted of the 1989 murder of her ex-husband and his wife. Broderick, a former La Jolla, California socialite, shot and killed Dan Broderick, a prominent attorney, and his young wife Linda, while they were sleeping, per The Los Angeles Times. After her first trial ended with a hung jury, Broderick was sentenced to 32 years behind bars for the murders. At trial, she claimed Dan was a manipulative and abusive husband.

The case made national headlines, and Broderick gained the support of many women whose husbands abandoned them for younger women. Baxter received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal, and told The Los Angeles Times she believed Broderick's account of what happened, at first. "I think women particularly are susceptible to [buying into her story] if they know or are familiar with, in some way, the abused wife syndrome. Betty hooked into that."

But as she prepared for the two-hour sequel, Baxter said she felt she'd been "duped or I had duped myself" about Broderick. After reviewing transcripts from the second trial, Baxter didn't see Broderick as the victim in all of this, realizing it was much more than the story of a woman scorned. "I got information from the psychiatrists, from what her kids said about her and what the lawyers said about her," Baxter added. "She could not be what she claimed to be."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Meredith Baxter came out at 62

In 2009, Meredith Baxter sent shock waves when the mother of five, who had been married three times, made an appearance on Today. Speaking to Matt Lauer, Baxter revealed, "I am a lesbian and it was a later-in-life recognition of that fact ... Some people would say, 'Well, you're living a lie,' and, you know, the truth is — not at all. This has only been for the past seven years." Baxter admitted she felt pressure to come forward, amid speculation tabloids were going to beat her to it.

After struggling for years in her relationships with men, Baxter settled down with general contractor Nancy Locke in 2005, per People. With Locke, she said, "I feel like I'm being honest for the first time." In 2011, Baxter told Oprah (via ABC News) realizing she was a lesbian was easier than she expected. "I don't know why I wasn't confused about it. I felt alive in a way I had not experienced, and life was rife with possibilities."

In 2013, the couple made it official, tying the knot in an intimate ceremony at the Mountain Mermaid, a Spanish hacienda in Topanga, California, according to The New York Times. The pair connected after Locke, who was working on her sobriety, reached out to a friend for help, who gave her Baxter's number, with no last name and no clue that Meredith was a well-known actor. At the ceremony, Locke told her new wife, "I'm amazed to find you at this late stage of my life."

How Meredith Baxter's life changed after coming out

Meredith Baxter was worried about how her fans would react to her being in a relationship with a woman. In a 2011 interview with Toronto Star, she explained that her family and friends all knew she was a lesbian, and nobody had a problem with it. "But I had a hard time, and probably have some concerns still, about how general America or North America is going to deal with ['Family Ties' mom] Elyse Keaton... gay!"

Speaking to The Advocate later that year, Baxter noted that coming out gave her a whole new lease on life. "I just had a real, real low self-esteem. It also allowed me to walk around and be able to say, 'I have a community now,'" she said. After becoming a part of the 12-step community, she added, "Now I have even more a sense of community within the gay community." By 2014, after photos from her wedding appeared in People magazine, Baxter could see the tide was turning on the public's perception of her.

"In fact, I've been many places recently where [I've seen it]. People have told me, 'Meredith, I saw you in People magazine and the photos of your beautiful wedding. Congratulations!' and I'm always stunned." she shared with The Advocate. Baxter has also become an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, speaking for the Human Rights Campaign, doing some work with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and fighting for marriage equality, according to Out.

What she thinks is Hollywood's big problem

Meredith Baxter's career hasn't exactly been flourishing over the last decade, based on her IMDb profile. Although she could chalk it up to homophobia in Hollywood, she believes it's something more universal than that – ageism. "Women my age — there's more of us around than men my age — we're the predominant part of the populace [in this demographic] and we're not represented on television. I don't think they know what to do with us," Baxter told The Advocate in 2014.

"The truth is you don't know what a 67-year-old woman really looks like today, because you do not see her on television — at least not in any way you'd recognize," she continued, adding that viewers aren't used to seeing faces etched with lines and maturity. While Baxter is encouraged by the changes in LGBTQ visibility on-screen over the years, there is one group she feels is often overlooked – queer seniors.

In another interview that year with Out, the unintentional role model for the "late bloomers" club said coming out in her sixties introduced her to a new generation of women. "When I wrote my book ['Untied'], some of the most touching responses I got were from women who were saying, 'Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, that's my story,'" Baxter explained, adding that hearing those stories meant so much to her, because for a long time she was ashamed to share her own.

Her greatest accomplishment will likely surprise you

In 2012, Meredith Baxter was asked what she believed was her biggest accomplishment. Speaking to the Hartford Courant ahead of a talk she was delivering on domestic violence, she responded, "The accomplishment? Probably just survival. I can't say I have achieved an awful lot but the work I have done has been okay, but not life changing," she said. "I hope I have reached people talking about domestic abuse."

Baxter hopes that by sharing her story other women won't make the same mistakes  she did. "I want women who are in bad relationships — and they don't have to be abusive to be bad, they can just be unhealthy — but if you're not happy in a situation, you do not have to stay," she told Toronto Star in 2011, adding that she felt beaten down, voiceless and didn't think she could just walk away.

As for her biggest regret in life, Baxter told The Hartford Courant she wished she wasn't such a "slow learner." The "Cold Case" alum said if she knew she was going to write a memoir, she would have realized more about herself much sooner. "When you are treading water and trying not to drown, which is how I perceived myself, you find any spar to hold onto. You don't think about whether it is oak or elm, you just want something to hold onto."

In TV ads, she proved she was really 'worth it'

Meredith Baxter was well-known as the face of several classic TV commercials. In 1971, she was the first celebrity to say the iconic slogan, "Because I'm Worth It," in a TV commercial for L'Oreal's Préférence hair color, according to Elle. In 2021, the brand celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the successful concept, with various versions of the line. Andie MacDowell later pitched the product, as did Diane Keaton, Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé, among many others, per Forbes.

In the 80s, Baxter moved on to another hair care brand, touting the benefits of Clairol Condition. telling women that "good healthy-looking hair says a lot about someone." Later in her career, the wholesome beauty claimed that Noxzema, instead of soap, was the secret to softer, younger looking skin. Baxter, who has certainly aged gracefully, recalls being pressured to consider going under the knife even when she was in her forties.

On a 2014 episode of "Where Are They Now", she explained. While shooting a scene with a woman who was a bit older than her, the crew was taking a long time to light a scene with the two women together. "And the producer came up to me and said, 'Meredith, unless you get a lift, you are only going to be able to work with other women who have not had a lift,'" Baxter said. "That's what actors are faced with. Because so many people have had work done."

How much is Meredith Baxter really worth?

Meredith Baxter has a net worth of about $7 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. She is best known for her roles on TV, among them "Bridget Loves Bernie," "Family," and "Family Ties." Also of note, she has received three primetime Emmy nominations for her work, including two for "Family" and one for "A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story."

As for Baxter's big screen credits, there are "All the President's Men," "The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green," and "Paradise Texas." In August of 2016, Baxter put her home in Santa Monica, California on the market for $6 million. She accepted $4.6 million for the property in March of 2017, according to The Los Angeles Times. Had she held on to it, that piece of real estate likely could have sold for close to $8 million.

Over the course of her fifty-year career in Hollywood, the actor and producer has continued to seek work in an ever-changing environment. In a 2012 interview with The Hartford Courant, the enduring star admitted she's had more than her share of ups and downs, but she doesn't always take stock of what she's achieved. "I had a lot of success but who ever looks to be happy? I never knew to measure happy."