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Florence Henderson dead: Brady Bunch star dies at 82

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Everett Collection

Hollywood has lost one of its iconic TV moms.

Florence Henderson died Thursday at age 82, her manager confirmed to The Associated Press.

The actress, talk show host, and pitchwoman gained her greatest fame on The Brady Bunch, starring for five seasons (1969-1974) on the beloved family comedy as Carol Brady, the sunny, can-do matriarch of a blended family with six children. Her career would be forever defined by that part, as she served as a de facto honorary mom for a generation weaned on television. And that was a role she embraced. “I played Carol as the mother I always wished I had,” she once said, “as the mother a lot of people wished they had.”

The youngest of 10 children born to a tobacco farmer in rural Indiana — and whose mother abandoned the family when she was 12 — Henderson enrolled the American Academy of Dramatic Arts at age 17. Soon, she scored a part in the Broadway musical Wish You Were Here, followed by the lead role in a touring production of Oklahoma!, and starred in other Broadway musicals like Fanny, The Sound of Music, The Girl Who Came to Supper, and South Pacific. You could say that she appeared on TV at virtually all hours, endearing herself to audiences first as the Today Girl on the Today show and also becoming the first woman to guest-host The Tonight Show.

The Brady Bunch would make her one of the most famous small-screen mothers of all-time, and Carol Brady would stay with her long after the show ended in 1974. She reprised the role in two TV movies (1981’s The Brady Girls Get Married and 1988’s A Very Brady Christmas) and three spin-offs (1976-1977’s variety series The Brady Bunch Hour, the 1981 comedy The Brady Brides, and the 1990 drama The Bradys). In between Brady projects she remained a fixture on TV, guest-starring on The Love Boat eight times, including the show’s maiden voyage. (“I felt like a permanent member of the cast, I was there so often,” she told EW a few years ago.) Henderson’s other credits included Murder, She Wrote, L.A. Law, Roseanne, Ellen, and The King of Queens, Samantha Who and 30 Rock. She even dipped her toe — and dancing shoes — in the world of reality TV, as a contestant on both The Surreal Life and Dancing With the Stars (serving as the oldest cast member in season 11). And when she wasn’t appearing on shows, she was popping up in commercials, pitching products like Wesson Oil and Polident. She added the role of author to her resume in 2011 when she penned her memoir Life is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond, a candid look at her life that explored her tough childhood, marital affairs (she was married twice and has four kids), and struggle with postpartum depression.

Henderson kept working up until her death. She had been hosting a talk show on the Retirement Living TV network, The Florence Henderson Show, since 2008. In 2013, she also began hosting a cooking show on the network, What’s Cooking with Florence Henderson.

This year, Henderson appeared in four projects, including the big-screen comedy Fifty Shades of Black. Her final film, Grandmothers Murder Club, is set for release next year. And she continued to return to Dancing With the Stars as a featured guest. Just last Monday, she sat in the front row next to the judges, which made it easy for Len Goodman to come up and give her a big hug.