Florence Henderson, the “lovely lady” of The Brady Bunch, died on Thanksgiving night at the age of 82. Her publicist Mark Brokaw tells The New York Times that, according to the family, the cause of death was heart failure. “She was quite active until she started not feeling well several days ago,” he said. “It was felt that she would just bounce back from it.”
Henderson had a vast career that took her from theater to the TV news business, but she was best known as The Brady Bunch’s Carol Brady, the woman who raised three blonde-haired girls, and then married a man named Mike, who had three boys of his own. The two then watched over their clan as they got into hijinks and eventually formed a band: The Silver Platters. The Brady Bunch only ran from 1969 to 1974, but its long life in syndication meant that many grew up with Henderson in mind as the ideal sitcom mother. She would continue to revisit Carol with the variety series The Brady Bunch Hour, the specials The Brady Girls Get Married and A Very Brady Christmas, and the short-lived series The Brady Brides and The Bradys. More recently, she skewered the sunny image she had cultivated with a brash turn on 30 Rock.
Two of Henderson’s TV children immediately mourned her on Twitter. Barry Williams, who played Greg Brady, wrote: “Deeply saddened. Florence was one of the most gracious people I have ever known, Proud to call her Mom and life long friend.” Meanwhile, Maureen McCormick—otherwise known as Marcia Brady—said: “Florence Henderson was a dear friend for so very many years & in my heart forever. Love & hugs to her family. I’ll miss u dearly.”
Even before The Brady Bunch made her a legend, Henderson was a fixture on TV. She was one of the Today show’s “Today girls,” and a presence on talk shows like Tonight Starring Jack Paar, as well as game shows including The Match Game. Her career began in musical theater, and she considered winning a part in a touring company of Oklahoma! her “first break,” she told Variety. “I had come to New York the year before to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts,” she explained. “I was barely 17 years old. I went to an open call. It turned out it was for Rodgers and Hammerstein, who were sending out the very last national company of Oklahoma. After meeting them and reading some lines, they offered me the role of Laurey.” She also played that role in a Broadway revival, and starred in shows like Wish You Were Here and Fanny.
Henderson was still actively working before her death. She had appeared in TV commercials for several years, becoming the spokesperson for brands like Wesson. She competed on Dancing With The Stars in 2010, and appeared on the show this season to cheer on her TV daughter McCormick. Earlier this year she appeared in the parody film Fifty Shades Of Black, and recently wrapped the upcoming movie Grandmothers Murder Club with Pam Grier.