Airing from 1987 to 1997, Married… with Children remains the Fox network’s longest-running live-action sitcom. But its sixth season will forever be associated with the personal tragedy suffered by one of its main cast members. Here’s a look at how the star and the sitcom coped in the aftermath of the traumatic incident.
Married… with Children debuted on the Fox network in April 1987. The comedy centered on the Bundys, a family of four living in a Chicago suburb. Played by Ed O’Neill, shoe salesman Al was the patriarch, with the majority of the episodes revolving around his misfortune and stupidity.
Katey Sagal starred as Al’s lazy wife Peggy, while Christina Applegate portrayed his bimbo daughter Kelly and David Faustino his irreverent son Bud. Amanda Bearse and David Garrison played the Bundys’ neighbors Marcy and Steve Rhoades. The main cast was later rounded out by Ted McGinley as the Marcy’s second husband, Jefferson D’Arcy.
The brainchild of Ron Leavitt and Michael G. Moye, Married… with Children stayed on the air until the summer of 1997. By that point, Fox’s first ever primetime live-action sitcom had enjoyed 11 seasons and a whopping 259 episodes.
But due partially to the fact that it aired on a fledgling network, Married… with Children was never a massive ratings hit. The highest the show ever reached in the Nielsen rankings, in fact, was number 29 during its sixth season in 1991-92. Coincidentally, this was the same season that was disrupted by a personal tragedy.
After Katey Sagal revealed that she was expecting her first child in real life, producers decided to make her character pregnant as well in the sixth season. Tragically, though, following an emergency c-section, the actress lost her baby daughter seven months into the pregnancy. Sagal was absent from the filming of several episodes of the 1991-92 season as a result.
And producers tried to deal with Sagal’s absence and the reason for it in a sensitive way. In an episode titled “Al Bundy, Shoe Dick,” it was revealed that the pregnancy of Sagal’s character Peg had simply been a figment of Al’s imagination.
Sagal and her then husband – the drummer Jack White – later had two kids together. Daughter Sarah Grace was born in 1994, while Jackson James arrived two years later. Due to the actress’ previous tragedy, though, Married… with Children’s producers decided against incorporating these two pregnancies into the show.
Instead, Peggy was sent off to travel the globe in a plot involving a reunion between her mother and father. Producers also decided to obscure Sagal’s visible bump in the episodes she did appear in, for instance by having her sit at a craps table or in a taxicab. She was also regularly filmed – from the chest up – chatting to the rest of the Bundys over the phone.
Sagal then welcomed daughter Esme Louise into the world in 2007, three years after marrying her writer-producer third husband Kurt Sutter. A decade later, Sagal detailed all four of her pregnancies in her memoir, Grace Notes. And she also spoke candidly about the trauma of her first during a promotional appearance on The View.
“It was a very difficult thing,” Sagal told the panel of the ABC show. “I lost a child at almost eight months and… I could not wrap my brain around’ it.” The actress went on to discuss how she’d struggled to come to terms with such a traumatic experience.
“This is what they say about stillbirth: that 60 percent of it is God’s will, and there’s no medical reason,” Sagal continued. “And that’s what I was told. And I just couldn’t let go of the control of somehow [the notion that] I had done something wrong.”
Indeed, Sagal initially believed that she might have been responsible for the stillbirth due to working too much or failing to take care of her health properly. “It was very difficult,” she admitted. Later, the actress even turned to psychic healers in a bid to help her cope with the ordeal.
Sagal also experienced spiritual enlightenment through the wise words of a friend. The Buddhist pal in question told the actress, “Sometimes we have these little souls that come in and out [of our lives,] and their mission is completed.” Sagal believes this mindset allowed her to put her life back on track.
Moreover, this wasn’t the first time that Sagal had opened up about the loss of her first baby. In 1994 – just three years after the tragedy – the actress told People magazine that she had tried to blame herself for the incident. Sagal added, “I had to accept the fact that sometimes things happen that are out of our hands.”
“We had picked out everything for Ruby,” Sagal revealed. “Her clothes, her furniture. We held her and said goodbye to her. Ruby will always be our first little girl.” Sagal also described the experience as humbling. “I found out I had more faith than I thought I had,” she said.
Sagal’s on-screen husband Ed O’Neill told People magazine how courageous his co-star had been on her return to the Married… with Children set. “I was amazed by her strength,” O’Neill said. “I thought she’d be a basket case, but when she came back, she was very professional.”
Sagal also channeled her grief into her sideline as a recording artist. A full 18 years after her 1976 debut, Moon Over Brooklyn, she released a second studio album, Well… And this 1994 set featured a song inspired by her devastating loss, titled “You Can’t Hurry the Harvest.”
Sagal also addresses several other ordeals that she’s faced during her life in Grace Notes. These include her insecurities about her appearance and a consequent addiction to diet pills, the loss of both her parents at a relatively young age, and Sagal’s battle with alcohol abuse.
Since Married… with Children came to an end, Sagal has enjoyed recurring roles on Sons of Anarchy, 8 Simple Rules and Futurama. And if rumors are to be believed, she might well end up reprising her most iconic role. According to Sagal’s former co-star David Faustino, all four main Married.. with Children cast members are interested in a reboot of the sitcom that launched them to fame.