The hit TV show Modern Family said goodbye to its audience in 2020. It had run for a truly impressive 11 seasons – yet all good things must come to an end. But even as the cast celebrated their success, they mourned the loss of one of the most beloved members of their on-set family.
For years, fans had enjoyed watching the ups and downs of the extended Pritchett family. The show follows Ed O’Neill’s character Jay Pritchett and his children throughout some of the most important moments of their lives. And it aimed to present representations of all sorts of families – including ones with same-sex parents.
In February 2019 it was announced that the 11th season of Modern Family would be its last. And ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke announced at the 2019 Television Critics Association press tour that the last episodes would feature “milestone events that [fans]… won’t want to miss.”
Many of the Modern Family cast posted on social media after they wrapped up the final episode one year later in February 2020. Series star Sofia Vergara – who received multiple awards for her portrayal of Gloria Delgado-Pritchett – was just one of them.
Vergara also posted some pictures of the cast on her Instagram. She wrote alongside the photos, “I will never forget this set [and these] people – there were only good times. Thank you Modern Family.” And addressing her own character, she wrote, “Thank you Gloria Pritchett.”
Fans of the show also left messages for Vergara on her post. One person wrote, “Best ensemble cast ever. I can watch episodes I’ve seen a dozen times and I still laugh and cry. Pure perfection. Thank you – every one of you.” Another said, “I will miss this show immensely. Thank you for all the wonderful years.”
And Sarah Hyland – aka Haley Dunphy – posted pics of the wrap party on her own Instagram. She wrote, “I love these people with all my heart. Eleven years together is proof [that] you and your TV sister will start wearing the same outfit, siblings for life will be made, and you’ll forever fight over the same professor. We’ll always be Dunphys and we’ll always have each other.”
Other members of the cast reflected on their 11 years on Modern Family to USA Today. Claire Dunphy actress Julie Bowen told the newspaper, “I was sobbing and sobbing by the end [of a table read of the finale]. Turns out I’m not going to have any control over my emotions during this process.”
And actor Ty Burrell said, “I honestly feel like the dominant emotion isn’t sadness. It’s actually sort of an overwhelming gratitude that has a lot of people feeling emotional. It’s just feeling really grateful to have had the experience and to have been with these people – understanding how rare and special it’s been.”
Unbeknown to the cast members interviewed, however, sadness was just around the corner. In March 2020, not long before the last ever episode of the show aired on ABC, news came through that one of the Modern Family cast had passed away. And the show’s co-creator Steve Levitan soon confirmed it.
Beatrice – the doggie actor who played Jay Pritchett’s pet Stella – had sadly passed away. Levitan then made a statement to the media in March 2020 about the much-loved canine. He said, “While she was occasionally a major diva who made unreasonable demands and often questioned her ‘motivation,’ most of the time Beatrice was a delightful and lovable presence on the Modern Family set.”
Levitan’s statement regarding Beatrice’s passing was a wittily written one – but it was also sad. The writer went on, “She brought smiles wherever she went and was completely convincing in her role as a dog. We will all miss that adorable scrunched-up face. Enjoy doggie heaven, sweet Beatrice/Stella.”
Stella had been one of the most beloved characters on Modern Family. The adorable little French Bulldog had been introduced in the season two episode called “Good Cop Bad Dog.” Jay hadn’t wanted to keep her at first, but then he fell in love with her – feelings which were not shared by his wife Gloria.
For years, Beatrice acted out Stella’s adorable antics on the show. However, she was a much-in-demand doggie performer. The cute canine appeared in commercials for big companies such as Samsung, and she popped up in shows including Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Kominsky Method and Workaholics. And apparently, she even knew how to skateboard.
Interestingly, Beatrice wasn’t actually the first dog to play the role of Stella on Modern Family. Previously, another animal actor named Brigitte had played her, and it was the latter dog who made Stella’s debut during season two of the show. However, a dispute between the canine’s actual owner and the animal acting agency saw Brigitte leave the program.
For his part, Ed O’Neill got along very well with his furry co-star. In 2011 her trainer Guin Solomon told People magazine, “He and Brigitte love each other. He is very concerned about her all the time, and he looks out for her. She’s really [O’Neill’s] dog. I couldn’t have asked for a better actor to work with.”
Thankfully, O’Neill got along just as well with Beatrice. The replacement canine had actually been the understudy to Brigitte and her best animal friend. She also belonged to Solomon, so she was the obvious choice to take over the role of Stella when it was suddenly left vacant.
In 2017 Solomon gave an interview to the website Bodie on the Road, and there the trainer talked a little about Beatrice. She said, “Ed O’Neill is in love with her. It’s very easy working with him because he brings Beatrice treats like popcorn and always looks out for her – like we’ll be doing scenes in the backyard by the pool and in between takes he’ll say, ‘Would you please get Beatrice an umbrella, she’s in the sun!’”
Another one of Beatrice’s trainers, Solomon’s husband Steve, told The Hollywood Reporter a similar thing in 2014. He said, “When it comes to Ed O’Neill, [Beatrice] and him have quite a bond, I mean we call him Uncle Ed. As soon as she walks on set, he basically stops what he’s doing and he comes over, grabs her, gives her a hug and she just simply gives it back to him and he’ll let her kiss her all over. They love each other.”
However, just like her character Gloria – who always seemed to be second to Stella when it came to her husband’s affections – Sofia Vergara apparently wasn’t a fan of dogs. Solomon told Bodie on the Road, “She wasn’t that thrilled when Stella was introduced to the show so we respectfully keep our distance!”
Solomon also talked about what a good actress Beatrice was. She was asked, “Does Beatrice get her scripts ahead of time, like the other actors?” And the trainer responded, “It depends – if she’s simply lying around in a scene, it’s fine for us to just show up because Beatrice knows to follow the dialogue naturally – so it appears as if she’s engaging with the conversation.”
Solomon went on, “But if [the showrunners] are requesting a specific gag, they’ll send us an outline as soon as they come up with the concept. The only snag is that each scene goes through multiple drafts and is forever changing – right up until the day of filming. So we have to let them know on the day how much time we need to make the adjustments and get her ready.”
Solomon talked about the episode “Little Bo Bleep” – which saw Stella in a swimming pool. She said, “I had to let them know it wasn’t safe for her to be struggling in the water without a lifejacket. So we had a period of, ‘How are we going to do this?’ And then we came up with the solution of having a life vest made and painted to look exactly like her coat!”
The interviewer subsequently asked Solomon, “Does Stella have a quiet area to chill on set?” The dog trainer explained that her company promoted “crate training” – which means that a dog is given a crate to use as their “home” or their den. The mutt then comes to see it as a safe space for them to relax.
Solomon explained, “In between takes, we always put Stella in her crate, otherwise she’d be running around the set and then be panting wildly for her scene and we’d have to take extra time to calm her down. Of course, the crew loves to play with her when she’s out and about because she’s so fun and clowny. She really is one of the family.”
In the interview Solomon said that her company Good Dog Animals – which she runs with her husband Steve – always tried to find rescue dogs to train into animal actors. Brigitte had also been a rescue – she was left by the people who should have been her adopted family and eventually found her way to Solomon.
Dogs who couldn’t act, Solomon said, were sent to homes. She explained, “For some dogs the lights and the cameras and the crew is too much and they would be better suited to a quiet environment and a single-family home. And if we see that, we rehabilitate the animals and find great homes for them, which in turn opens up the door for us to rescue another dog to become a star. So it’s a win-win.”
Solomon then touched upon the work of animal actors in general and the downsides to the business. She said, “There’s some people who don’t treat them the way they should and others who complain, ‘Why can they just do their trick?’ [They don’t realize] that they are like actors in that they need time to rehearse a trick in position.”
It was a “hard business” according to Solomon. However, she went on, the Modern Family set wasn’t like that. The trainer continued, “Fortunately, I have to say, Modern Family are wonderful people – everyone from the very top down. It really is a great show to work on – as well as watch.”
Of course, the Modern Family cast were also upset to hear that Beatrice had passed away. Jesse Tyler Ferguson – who played Jay’s son Mitchell Pritchett on the show – posted a behind-the-scenes picture on Twitter. He also left the statement, “Rest in Peace sweet Beatrice. We love you so much.”
And there was an outpouring of sympathy in the comments directed to Ferguson. One person wrote, “So sorry for your loss. Pets are the angels on Earth. They give so much and ask only for our love and care. I’m sure she knew she was loved by you all and adored by millions. A good life is all we can do for our pets. R.I.P. Beatrice.”
For Ferguson, the bad news came right on the heels of a sense of sadness at the end of Modern Family. On March 13 he told the show Entertainment Tonight, “When August comes around and it’s a time that we would be going back to work after our summer hiatus, I think we’re all gonna feel a void.”
Ferguson went on, regarding his co-stars, “We have a group text that we’re all on, and we’re all checking in with one another. We’ve all gone off already in these new jobs and these new opportunities and people are with their families, and yet we’re still wanting to stay very connected to one another.”
The actor continued, “It’s going to be a group of people that I’m always close with but it’s just going to be in a different way. I’m not going to see them as often… I think when that final episode airs, it’s gonna roll out in a really beautiful way. It’s gonna be an hour-long finale. There’s a documentary that’s been shot about the show that’s to air for an hour before that. So we’re going to give the fans a really nice send-off.”
And Ferguson wasn’t the only one who released a statement about Beatrice. On March 16 the Good Dog Animals company explained the circumstances of the death. They said, “It is with our deepest regrets to inform you all that we have lost our beloved Beatrice. Last Saturday she was rushed to the emergency room.”
The statement went on, “[Beatrice] had fluid around her heart which was compressing down. The cardiologist went to remove the fluid and she went into cardiac arrest. They started CPR but they were not able to revive her.” Furthermore, the company added that Beatrice’s sudden passing had left them “heartbroken and devastated.”
That same day, Steve Solomon gave an interview to People magazine about the “incredible little dog” he had known. He told the publication, “She worked her butt off on Modern Family for years. We can’t thank her enough for that.” For reference, Beatrice had been only nine years old when she died.
Steve went on, “When she was a little puppy she was just [so cute]. [I] never thought she would be the star that she was. She ended up proving herself to be a great puppy on that show. Ed O’Neill loved her to death just like the creators and that’s why they put her on the [program].”
The dog trainer also explained to the magazine that Beatrice was initially able to be revived by the animal surgeons. However, “after that, they soon lost her again and of course, in the power of everything to be done was done but unfortunately, it was one of those things that you can’t go backward on.”
And the Good Dog Animals people probably spoke for most of the Modern Family cast with the following words. They said of Beatrice, “We are so grateful to know that she has so many fans that embraced her with such love and support! She will be with us forever! She is the Modern Dog.”