Fresh off her award-winning turn on The Watchmen, Jean Smart is earning rave reviews for her starkly different work on two other HBO shows: Mare of Easttown, in which she plays Kate Winslet’s bumbling but brilliant mother, Helen; and Hacks, where she shines as prickly Las Vegas comedy legend Deborah Vance.
In a new profile by the New Yorker, Smart, 69, reveals that she was still filming the latter show when her husband of nearly 34 years, actor Richard Gilliland, died suddenly of a heart condition on March 18 at age 71. What’s more, shortly after his death Smart had to film a scene set at a funeral for the Hacks Season 1 finale, which is dedicated in Gilliland’s memory.
“I feel like I just should say something about my husband, because he passed away very unexpectedly,” the actress says in her New Yorker interview. “I still had a week of Hacks left to do. That was hard. I had to do a funeral scene.”
According to Smart, she “was a wreck, but it actually turned out to be very funny.”
Designing Women fans will remember Gilliland as J.D., boyfriend to Annie Potts’s character, Mary Jo. “I met him when he was kissing someone else,” Smart, who played Charlene on the popular sitcom, has quipped in the past about meeting her future husband on the show. His other acting credits include Matlock, Dexter, Desperate Housewives, The Unit and 24, which also starred Smart.
“He was one of those actors who never got the chance to really show what he could do,” Smart says of Gilliland, whom she wed in 1987. “A couple of times onstage, he did. But he really sacrificed his career for me to be able to take advantage of my opportunities. I wouldn’t have all this, if it wasn’t for him.”
The Emmy winner, who shared two children with Gilliland, also reflected on her life without him.
“It’s been really weird,” she admitted. “It’s not anything I ever dreamed would happen. Not so soon. He made me laugh all the time. That’s going to be hard to live without.”
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