Designing Women star Richard Gilliland dies aged 71

Designing Women star Richard Gilliland dies aged 71: Actor passes away following a ‘short illness’ after 34 years married to his co-star Jean Smart

  • The actor passed away after what a press release called a ‘short illness’
  • Richard was mainly known for his recurring role of a love interest to Mary Jo Shively on the 1980s sitcom Designing Women
  • He met wife Jean, who played Charlene Frazier-Stillfield in the series, and they married in 1987 
  • He also had a regular role on the short-lived 1970s cop show McMillan & Wife which starred Rock Hudson
  • The actor had guest starred far and wide on shows like The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and The Waltons but always retained his theatrical discipline

Designing Women actor Richard Gilliland has died at the age of 71.

The actor, who had been married to his co-star Jean Smart for over 30 years, passed away after what a press release called a ‘short illness,’ People reports. 

Richard, who played the recurring role of a love interest to Mary Jo Shively on the 1980s sitcom, is survived by his wife as well as the couple’s two children – son Connor, 31, and daughter Bonnie Kathleen, 12.

Tragic: Designing Women actor Richard Gilliland has died at the age of 71. The screen veteran had been married to his co-star Jean Smart for 34 years

Richard and Jean were in fact meant to co-star in an upcoming Tate Taylor movie called Breaking News In Yuba County that was scheduled to film over the summer.

The acting veteran was born in Fort Worth, Texas and studied theatre from a young age, going onto attend Chicago’s Goodman School Of Drama.

One of his college shows was the 1970s Stephen Schwartz musical Godspell where he played Jesus and a young Joe Mantegna played Judas.

After he left college and the 1970s rolled on, Richard became a jobbing actor in television with regular roles on multiple series.

Dearly departed: The screen star died after what a press release called a ‘short illness’

Meet cute: In 1986 he landed a recurring role on the sitcom Designing Women as the love interest of one of the leads played by Annie Potts (middle) who starred with Jean (right)

One of them was Operation Petticoat which was an adaptation of a 1950s war movie of the same name starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis.

The TV show starred Richard in a cast that included Tony’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis and John Astin whose son Sean Astin starred in The Lord Of The Rings films.

Richard also had a regular role on the short-lived 1970s cop show McMillan & Wife which starred Rock Hudson and played a murderer on Matlock.

He guest starred far and wide on shows like The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and The Waltons but always retained his theatrical discipline.

Duo: He met actress Jean on the popular sitcom, and then went onto marry in 1987 and have two children together (pictured in January 2020)

Coming up: One of Richard’s early TV roles was Operation Petticoat (pictured) which was an adaptation of a 1950s war movie of the same name starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis

Remember when: He also had a regular role on the short-lived 1970s cop show McMillan & Wife which starred Rock Hudson and played a murderer on Matlock (pictured)

In an interview with The Sport Of Acting, Richard said that when he got into TV ‘there was a conflict in the sense that I did, I considered myself a very serious actor and I had only done theater and stuff like that.

He said: ‘I approached the sitcom realm way back when the same way I would’ve approached a play. I prepared. I knew my lines. 

‘I was prepared and I was quite shocked when I would find someone who hadn’t done that, you know, that you know, was kinda learning on the fly.’

Richard said that some people ‘didn’t do their homework,’ and knew how to make that work to his advantage. 

However he recalled lightly that he took the job so ‘seriously’ that a network executive had to remind him: ‘This isn’t real. It’s television.’


Throwback: He guest starred far and wide on shows like The Love Boat and The Waltons but always retained his theatrical discipline

The old days: He is pictured on a 1983 episode of Fantasy Island with Shannon Tweed

Then in 1986 he landed a recurring role on the sitcom Designing Women as the love interest of Mary Jo, played by Annie Potts, but it was cast member Jean who really caught his eye.

Jean laughingly told the Seattle seniors paper North West Prime Time in 2017: ‘I met him when he was kissing someone else,’ and quickly wondered whether he was married.

She admitted she enlisted the help of her co-star Delta Burke to find out whether he was single.

‘Naturally, Delta walked up to him and blurted: “Jean wants to know if you’re married,”‘ Jean recalled fondly.

Dashing: Right at the start Jean said had a yen for Richard and wondered if he was married – so she enlisted her co-star Delta Burke to dig up the information (pictured on the show)

A year later Richard and Jean tied the knot in a rose garden at the home of Designing Women actress Dixie Carter and her husband Hal Holbrook.

She gave birth to Connor in 1989 and then 20 years later she and Richard adopted Bonnie from China during the little girl’s infancy.

While raising their family Richard acted alongside Jean not only on screen in shows such as 24, but also on the stage.

In 2007 they played in Love Letters which is a theatre piece about romantic pen pals who start writing to each other in grade school and continue for decades.

Togetherness: Their work together included TV movies like Audrey’s Rain and Just My Imagination as well as the stage piece It Had To Be You

Their work together included TV movies like Audrey’s Rain and Just My Imagination as well as the stage piece It Had To Be You.

During his long and happy marriage Richard also kept up solo gigs on programmes such as the Canadian series Heartland.

His TV guest gigs continued as well on major shows through the decades, from Thirtysomething to The Practice to Desperate Housewives to Dexter and Scandal. 

Richard’s last completed project was a sci-fi thriller movie called Case 347 that was released last year.

Working actor: His TV guest gigs continued as well on major shows through the decades, from Thirtysomething to Desperate Housewives(pictured) to Dexter and Scandal

Through the years: He is pictured appearing on The Practice in 1998 with Camryn Manheim

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