Jean Smart says sudden death of husband Richard Gilliland ‘changed every moment of my everyday life’

Jean Smart says the sudden death of husband Richard Gilliland has changed her life in every way.

“He was a great dad, and he made me laugh every day,” the Hacks and Mare of Easttown actress, 70, told Variety of the actor who died in March. “Him passing away was just not ever even a thought. And it’s changed every moment of my everyday life; every atom of my existence I feel like is altered.”

Smart said Gilliland, who she met on the set of Designing Women (he had a recurring role as Annie Potts’s boyfriend J.D.) and married in 1987, was such a huge part of her professional success.

Jean Smart with Richard Gilliland at the 25th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards in 2020 — the year she won Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Watchmen. (Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association)

“I just want people to know how much he’s sacrificed for me to be where I am, and to get the opportunities that I’ve gotten and let his career kind of take a back seat to help take care of our home and our kids,” she said. “And it kills me he didn’t get the chances that I got, because he was so talented. I was very lucky when I met him.”

Gilliland had his own career — including work on 24, Party of Five, Thirtysomething and Matlock — but he was able to be the hands-on parent when she was called away to work. She mentioned the time period when they welcomed their second child Bonnie (“Ani”), via adoption, in 2009.

“I thought, what am I doing?” Smart said. “My husband was home to care for the littlest one and the other one [Connor] was a teenager, but I took it very seriously and I flew home almost twice a week every week. I had to. I wouldn’t have felt right about not doing that. I just wanted my child to know, Mom’s still here, you know? That mommy guilt is a tough one. Because then you feel like everything’s getting short shrift.”

Smart said her Hacks family really rallied around her after Gilliland died. She’s relieved that the show, which starts up again in November, shoots in L.A. so she can be closer to her kids now that she’s parenting solo. (Ani is now 12 while Connor is 31.) 

She’s most recently been filming the movie Babylon, with Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, which is also based in L.A.

It was announced in March that Gilliland died after a brief illness. She said in June it was “unexpected” and she still had a week of Hacks to shoot, including a difficult funeral scene.

Smart and Gilliland had been slated to work together again this past summer in a film directed by Tate Taylor. 

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