Asked how she wanted to be remembered in a 1999 Archive of American Television interview (via the NYTimes) Florence Henderson said, “Probably as someone who survived for a long time in a very tough business and, hopefully, managed to retain a sense of humanity.”
That’s a fairly apt way to describe the life of Florence Henderson, who died yesterday of heart failure only a few days after the otherwise active Henderson fell ill. Henderson was not only best known for her role as Carol Brady, it was the role that characterized most of her career after 1969. Even when she she starred in other roles, it was usually in either a Carol Brady role, or a role designed to humorously subvert the typecast, like Bobcast Goldwaithe’s Shakes the Clown.
Not that being typecast as Carol Brady was a bad thing. Henderson appeared in a series of The Brady Bunch movies, spin-offs, and reunion specials over the course of her career, while the original sitcom continues to live on in syndication, the picture of family-friendly wholesomeness. It was a resilient presence in my life growing up, and like many kids of the ’80s, I’ve seen every episode multiple times (growing up, my best friend and I would play a game to see who could identify the most The Brady Bunch plotlines; it could go on for hours). Henderson deftly portrayed the doting mother who, like June Cleaver before her, often left the stern talks to her husband (although unlike June, she often left the cooking to her maid, Alice).
Indeed, The Brady Bunch was hardly a progressive show, even for its time. The only thing that often set it apart from a show from the 1950s were the hairstyles and bellbottoms, but it was a show that preached kindness and compassion, two qualities sorely missing in today’s television and cultural landscape.
Henderson played a sizable role in imparting that kindness and compassion, something she genuinely carried over either in character or presence to her other smaller roles, as a guest star in a number of sitcoms in the 80s, 90s, and aughts; on her cooking show; and even in the role that defined the last 30 years of her career: America’s mom.
Rest in peace, Florence Henderson.
Florence Henderson was a dear friend for so very many years & in my <3 forever. Love & hugs to her family. I'll miss u dearly #RIPFlorence— Maureen McCormick (@MoMcCormick7) November 25, 2016
Florence Henderson, thanks for your light and love. You were America's mom, and we shall miss you dearly.— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) November 25, 2016