'Brady Bunch' matriarch Florence Henderson dead at 82

"We are all devastated by the loss of our TV Mom, but four magnificent human beings are proof that Florence was a wonderful mother in real life," Susan Olsen, "Cindy" on The Brady Bunch, said Friday.
By Karen Butler and Doug G. Ware  |  Updated Nov. 25, 2016 at 5:09 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Actress Florence Henderson died of heart failure in a Los Angeles hospital on Thursday, surrounded by her four children. She was 82.

Entertainment Tonight and CBS This Morning first reported her death, but did not offer details about what caused it.

Her death surprised many who had seen her just weeks ago on Dancing with the Stars, where she cheered on contestant and former Brady Bunch cast member Maureen McCormick, who played her daughter Marcia on the classic sitcom from 1969 to 1974.

Henderson herself had competed on DWTS in 2010.

Born in Dale, Ind., on Valentine's Day 1934, Henderson began her acting career in 1949 in a production of Carousel, in which she portrayed "Carrie Pepperidge." Other stage productions in which she appeared in subsequent years include Oklahoma! (1952), The Sound of Music (1961), The King & I (1965), South Pacific (1967) and Annie Get Your Gun (1974).

Before landing a leading role on The Brady Bunch, Henderson appeared in various television roles on programs like I Spy (1956), Little Women (1958), The Dean Martin Show (1968), and was a regular guest on Jack Paar's Tonight Show. In fact, she was the first woman to ever guest host NBC's Tonight show in 1962 after Paar's departure, and before Johnny Carson's arrival.

She was also a regular on NBC's Today show, becoming recognizable enough that she was known informally as the "Today Girl" -- a role in which she reported the weather and other lighthearted bits of news.

In 1969, Henderson won the role of Carol Brady -- a single mother of three girls who forms a mixed family by marrying a single father of three boys. Henderson, though, was not producer Sherwood Schwartz's first choice for the part, but she received the iconic role after actress Shirley Jones turned it down. Jones would later take a similar role on TV's The Partridge Family.

After The Brady Bunch was canceled by ABC in 1974, she went on to appear in the pilot episode of The Love Boat (1976), Murder, She Wrote (1986), L.A. Law (1986), Roseanne (1994), Ellen (1996), The King of Queens (2000), 30 Rock (2012) and several Brady spinoffs and made-for-TV movies.

McCormick was one of the first people to respond via social media to the news of Henderson's death.

"Florence Henderson was a dear friend for so very many years & in my <3 forever. Love & hugs to her family. I'll miss u dearly," McCormick tweeted "#RIPFlorence."

"Marcia" also posted a photo of her with her TV mom, captioned, "You are in my heart forever Florence."

"Florence was a wonderful role model for me and all of us 'kids,'" Brady Bunch alum Eve Plumb, who played "Jan," tweeted Friday. "I'm fortunate to have been able to know and to work with her. She will be missed."

"Of course we are all devastated by the loss of our TV Mom, but four magnificent human beings are proof that Florence was a wonderful mother in real life. It is for them that my heart is aching," Susan Olsen, who played "Cindy," said on Facebook.

"Deeply saddened. Florence was one of the most gracious people I have ever known, Proud to call her Mom and life long friend," Barry Williams, "Greg" on the show, tweeted.

"I grieve for the passing of my dear friend, Florence. Privileged to have known her and the kindness of her heart. She will be missed. RIP," Christopher Knight, the show's "Peter," said on Twitter with a photo of he and Henderson.

The patriarch of the popular TV family, Robert Reed, died in 1992 and Ann B. Davis, who played housekeeper "Alice," two years ago. The show's creator, Schwartz, died in 2011.

Henderson is survived by four children -- Barbara, Joseph, Bob and Elizabeth. Her husband, Dr. John Kappas, died in 2002.

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