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July 29, 2011

Sada Thompson, Primetime Emmy-Winning Actress

An acclaimed stage performer before turning to film and television, Thompson earned her Emmy for the role of Kate Lawrence in the drama series Family.

Actress Sada Thompson, winner of a Primetime Emmy for her performance as Kate Lawrence, the matriarch on the 1976-80 drama series Family, died on May 4, 2011, from complications of a lung disease at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. She was 83.

Born Sada Carolyn Thompson on September 27, 1929, in Des Moines, Iowa, Thompson developed a fascination with the stage when she moved to New Jersey at age five. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now called Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh), which led to appearances in a host of productions in regional stock including Hay Fever, The Little Foxes, Born Yesterday, The Clandestine Marriage, The Seagull, Pygmalion, Our Town, Arms and the Man and Blithe Spirit.

Thompson made her Off-Broadway debut in a 1955 production of Under Milkwood, and her Broadway debut four years later in the musical Juno. Other stage credits included The Effect of Gamma Rays on Main-in-the-Moon Marigolds (for which she earned a Drama Desk Award and an Obie Award), Tartuffe and Twigs, for which she received a Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics Award.

Based on her success in Twigs, Norman Lear signed Thompson to play the Bunker’s neighbor, Irene Lorenzo, on sitcom All in the Family, but the two bumped heads and she was replaced by Betty Garrett. Thompson’s first appearance on television was on The Goodyear Playhouse in 1954, followed by guest roles in Playwrights ’56, Camera Three, The Doctors and the Nurses, The DuPont Show of the Week, Love Story (a dramatic anthology created from the movie of the same name), Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law and 1974 miniseries Lincoln.

Her performance in Lincoln resulted in an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, which was the first of her nine nominations. Her one win came in 1978, for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, for Family — her only regularly scheduled series role.

In addition, she had a memorable guest role as Carla’s mother on the long-running comedy Cheers in 1991, earning her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. Other guest roles on television in included The Love Boat, Father Dowling Mysteries and Law & Order.

Movie roles included The Pursuit of Happiness and Desperate Characters, both in 1971. Her final theatrical appearance was in Pollock in 2000.

Thompson was married to Donald E. Stewart from December 18, 1949, until her death, and is also survived by one daughter, costume designer Liza Stewart.

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