Florence Henderson, known to generations of television viewers as Carol Brady, matriarch of the ABC sitcom The Brady Bunch from 1969 to 1974 and subsequently an enduring pop culture icon for nearly 50 years, has died. She was 82. According to statements released by her manager and her publicist, she had been hospitalized Thursday night in Los Angeles for heart failure.
Though best known for her famous sitcom role, Henderson, born in Dale, Indiana in 1934, had a varied career that included acclaimed stage performances, numerous other television appearances, and film roles. Her big break came while still a drama student in New York City at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where after a one-line role in Wish You Were Here, she was cast in the touring production of Oklahoma! in 1952. She would later originate the lead role in Fanny beginning in 1954.
Henderson worked steadily as a Broadway star over the 50s and 60s and moved into television. Among her most notable accomplishments, she was the first woman to guest-host The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. She also was a regular during the 1960s on NBC’s Today.
She landed her most famous role in 1969, starring for five years on The Brady Bunch. Despite its relentlessly cheerful tone and aggressively unthreatening aesthetic despite the tumultuous period in which it aired, the show was groundbreaking for being among the earliest examples of a blended family on television in the United States.
Though The Brady Bunch ended after a relatively short run, it became a staple of syndicated reruns for decades after, becoming something of a hyrid between generation X cultural touchstone, camp classic, and example of the quintessential family sitcom. Henderson would reprise the role of Carol Brady several times between 1977 and 1990.
Among her other stage credits: she portrayed Anna in a 1965 production of The King And I; Nellie Forbush in a 1967 production of South Pacific; Annie Oakley in 1975 and 1981 productions of Annie Get Your Gun; and others.
She made her film debut in 1970’s Song of Norway and went on to appear in The Naked Gun 331/3, most recently Fifty Shades Of Black, and others.
On television, among her numerous credits she was a contestant on Dancing With The Stars, she had guest roles on 30 Rock, The Cleveland Show, Samantha Who, she was a cast member on The Surreal Life, and hosted The Florence Henderson Show on Retirement Living TV from 2007-2009.