'Brady Bunch's Reed dies of cancer at 59

May 14, 1992|By Burt A. Folkart | Burt A. Folkart,Los Angeles Times

Hollywood -- Robert Reed, patriarch of television's beloved "The Brady Bunch," died Tuesday night at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., his daughter Karen Baldwin said yesterday. He was 59 and had been suffering from intestinal cancer for the past six months.

Although Mr. Reed -- who also portrayed the son and junior partner on TV's "The Defenders," the highly praised legal melodrama of the 1960s -- will forever be Mike Brady in the minds of viewers around the country, he was a veteran actor who worked in all facets of acting: stage, film and the small screen.

He even prescribed a professional antidote for himself when he wearied of the long hours he was devoting to "The Brady `D Bunch." He appeared as the cranky, dour police Lt. Adam Tobias on "Mannix" while concurrently presiding as the head of the middle-class Brady conglomerate.

That suburban American family was composed of six well-scrubbed children kept in check by a widow (Florence Henderson) and a widower (Mr. Reed) who married and joined households with the help of a housekeeper (Ann B. Davis).

Mr. Reed said in a 1970 interview, when the Brady family was at the height of its popularity, that "Mannix" came as a welcome relief from the hokum of the nationally ranked sitcom. But he and other critics of the show underestimated the series' enduring charm: A stage version of the Brady family is currently playing in Los Angeles (the first adaptation of a TV series to a stage play). In 1977 the family regrouped for "The Brady Bunch Hour" a short-lived series. And they also created a Christmas special in 1988, 14 years after the original series left the air in 1974 after a five-year run.

Mr. Reed, although tall, lean and handsome, never considered himself a leading man.

He opted to live in Pasadena rather than the more posh Beverly Hills or Bel-Air and modestly said that although he was considered a co-star on "The Defenders," "playing opposite E.G. Marshall (his father on the series) was one of the great privileges of an actor's life."

Born John Robert Rietz in Highland Park, Ill., Mr. Reed studied at Northwestern University and trained as a stage actor working with teachers from the Royal Shakespeare Co. and the Hungarian State Theater. He later won a place at the Royal

Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

He was a 30-year member of the Actors Studio and starred on Broadway in "Barefoot in the Park," "Avanti" and "Doubles" while touring in productions of "The Owl and the Pussycat" and "California Suite."

His movies included "Hurry Sundown," "Star!" and "The Maltese Bippy."

Reed was nominated for Emmys for his appearances on "Medical Center" in 1975-76; for "Rich Man Poor Man" that same season and for "Roots, Part 5" in 1976-77. He played Dr. William Reynolds in that most popular miniseries of all time.

Most recently he toured with "Love Letters" opposite Betsy Palmer. He last appeared on TV in an episode of this season's "Jake and the Fat Man."

Although he found the Bradys mildly offensive to a serious actor, he was the first to acknowledge the quality of the talent involved with the series -- particularly that of his screen wife, Ms. Henderson.

Besides his daughter, he is survived by his mother.

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