There may never be a TV mom quite as iconic as Florence Henderson, who played Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch from 1969 to 1974. Even for those of us too young to have been obsessed with the Bradys when they were first on the air, through reruns, reunion specials, and parodies, we all knew the blonde mom raising six kids in a wildly cool mid-century house. A representative for Henderson told the New York Times that Florence Henderson died Thursday in Los Angeles at the age of 82.
Before becoming Carol Brady, Florence Henderson was a Broadway actress with a killer voice. She was also a regular on The Tonight Show, but she’ll always be best remembered as the lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls. She also made a series of guest appearances on other shows over the past few decades, where she proved herself to be really very funny.
Florence Henderson was a pretty funny lady off-screen, too, and she enjoyed poking fun at her status as pop culture’s ultimate sitcom mom. She’s currently starring with spectacular new sitcom mom Tracee Ellis Ross from Black-ish in an oven commercial in which they argue over a new oven, which Ross declares is just hotter than the old one. Henderson responds by popping all the buttons on her shirt, dropping her a husky octave and sexily asserting that the old one was “plenty hot.”
And back in 2015 Henderson declared that Carol Brady was “the original Black Widow.” The show never specified if Carol Brady was widowed or divorced or what had happened to her daughters’ father.
“I killed my husband,” Henderson said in 2015. “I was the original Black Widow. Nobody ever said, but I always just say I got rid of him.”
Henderson was also a strong proponent of gender equality even back in the 1960s. According to the New York Daily News, she used to beg The Brady Bunch producers to give Carol Brady a job, because she thought it felt more true to the character. Carol Brady was an independent woman who had been raising three girls by herself before she met Mike Brady. When the show started she was raising six children, but the oldest were teenagers and even the smallest kids were old enough to be relatively self-sufficient by that point, and the Bradys had Alice, a full-time housekeeper and babysitter. Henderson though that given the circumstances, Carol Brady would have worked. Also, Henderson was a working mother with four children, and she wanted to bring that experience to the role. (Henderson was the youngest of 10 children and her parents were poor, and she had been working since she was eight years old.)
The producers said no, though, so Carol Brady was a homemaker until the reunion specials in the 1970s. At that point, Henderson had all the leverage and said she wouldn’t do the reunion specials unless they gave Carol Brady a job. They couldn’t do a reunion without Carol, so Carol Brady became a real estate agent. (Henderson was annoyed by the choice of job, but it was still a victory.)
Henderson had been in very good health, and her family said that she was active and happy until a couple days ago, when she was feeling ill and went to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She died Thursday of heart failure at the hospital.