Jean Smart is an actress with an impressive body of work. Born on September 13, 1951, the Seattle native knew she wanted to be an actress early on in life. She built a reputation in local productions and drama festivals across the country in the 1970s.
She made her debut on Broadway in 1981. She transitioned to the screen after one of her plays, “Piaf,” was reproduced for television. The actress achieved national recognition in 1986, playing Charlene Frazier on the female-led sitcom, “Designing Women.”
Smart would meet her husband to be on the set of that show. Richard Gilliland, who played another Annie Potts’ love interest, caught her eye when he first came on the show. Speaking about how they got together Smart joked:
“I met him when he was kissing someone else.”
Smart and Gilliland had co-star Delta Burke to thank for their introduction. They began dating, and as the saying goes, the rest is history. They got married in 1987 in Dixie Carter’s garden. Two years later, Connor Douglas Gilliland was born on October 25, 1989.
Jean Smart, as Charlene Frazier, and Richard Gilliland, as J.D., star in the ‘Reese’s Friend’ episode of the CBS television series “Designing Women” on February 4, 1987. | Source: Getty Images
The pregnancy was marred by gestational diabetes which the actress found difficult to control. Smart and her husband desiring to grow their family adopted Forrest Gilliland in 2009 at ten months old.
More celebrated for his work on stage, Gilliland was a talented actor, appearing in popular shows like “Matlock,” “Party of Five,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Dexter.”
Dad and mom were delighted with the new addition in spite of the lengthy adoption process that took five years longer than expected. Conor took to being a big brother and adored his little sibling.
One in a Million
Smart called herself lucky to have met her husband when she did because he proved to be a great partner. He took on the lion’s share of raising their children when she was working. The actress who felt that he missed out on opportunities to show the world what he could do, said:
“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.”
Sadly, Gilliland passed away on March 18, 2021, from a heart condition. No one expected the 71-year-old to be gone so soon. The shell-shocked widow threw herself into her work, soldiering through the final week of shooting for her HBO show “Hacks.” Her on-set family rallied around her to get her through the trying time.
Richard Gilliland and Jean Smart during 13th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards – Arrivals at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. | Source: Getty Images
More celebrated for his work on stage, Gilliland was a talented actor, appearing in popular shows like “Matlock,” “Party of Five,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Dexter.” After “Designing Women,” he shared the screen with his wife again in season five of “24”. They were slated to star together in another film in 2021.
Smart has conquered the hardest year of her life by taking it one day at a time.
Having been married for 34 years, Smart said being without her husband felt “weird.” He was undeniably a big part of her life; the one who shared her joys and thoughts. She would miss how much he made her laugh, and the delight he took in her work.
Life After Tragedy
With her husband gone, Smart has had to adjust to the life of a single parent to Conor and Forrest, which might just be the toughest role yet. Speaking of how she was coping without her husband, the actress replied:
“We were both actors and, you know, the work has brought me great satisfaction and a great distraction certainly from my grief.”
Conor who is 35, keeps a low profile, and doesn’t seem to be active on social media. Forrest, on the other hand, is just navigating the teenage years. The tight-knit family felt the gap most when Smart returned to filming her current show. She was stressed about how her child was doing while she was away.
Forrest Gilliland, Jean Smart, Conner Gilliland attend as Jean Smart is honored with a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 25, 2022 in Hollywood, California. | Source: Getty Images
Her “Hacks” co-star, Hannah Einbinder who has seen that side of Smart says she can be a “fierce mama bear.” She has had to protect and guide her young child through life after losing their dad while dealing with her own grief. A year on, the actress reported:
“Now, slowly, the reality of my new life is setting in, and I find that very, very, very, very sad, very lonely.”
Jean Smart and Forrest Gilliland attend the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards at L.A. LIVE on September 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images
Ironically, the actress has received several awards after her husband’s death, including her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a SAG Award for the outstanding female actor in a comedy series. Smart has conquered the hardest year of her life by taking it one day at a time.
Jean Smart is still gorgeous at 71. But the tall blonde beauty is better known for her impressive resumé. From her beginnings on the stage to the screen, Smart is able to bring humor and depth to any character she embodies. She has proved that one can live well after going through a tragedy.