It was the story of a lovely lady that captured the imagination of the country in 1969 when The Brady Bunch debuted, introducing TV viewers to Florence Henderson. Henderson had been acting on stage and had done a few guest spots on TV in the late 1950s, also appearing in a TV movie adaptation of Little Women as Meg March in 1958, but it wasn’t until The Brady Bunch came on the scene and became a cultural phenomenon that Henderson became a household name and a familiar face.
The Brady Bunch ran for five seasons, and has been on TV continuously since it ended in 1974 (the series is available to stream on CBS All Access). Carol Brady really defined Henderson’s career, and she embraced the role right up to her sudden and untimely passing on November 24, bringing the role to an episode of Dancing With the Stars in support of TV daughter Maureen McCormick’s dance routine celebrating the Brady legacy. Henderson, who was also a contestant on the show’s eleventh season at the age of 76, was even in the audience the Monday prior to her death, making her passing all the more shocking.
While Carol Brady defined Florence Henderson, she never let the role overshadow her other accomplishments in life. Henderson was born on February 14, 1934 in Dale, Indiana and grew up on a tobacco farm in Owensboro, Kentucky. At 17 she moved to New York to study acting and singing, landing a chorus member job on Broadway within a year. In 1952, Richard Rodgers selected her for the lead role of Laurey in a touring production of Oklahoma!, and she starred in the Broadway revival a year later. Henderson also appeared on Broadway in Wish You Were Here (1952), Fanny (1954), The Girl Who Came to Supper (1963) and South Pacific (1967).
Henderson joined Today as a fashion and weather correspondent, toured as Maria in The Sound of Music in 1961, and became the first female guest host of The Tonight Show in 1962. Over the years, she appeared on numerous variety and game shows, and after Carol Brady, is probably best known among baby boomers as the spokesperson for Wesson Oil (“Wessonality!”). Henderson remained very close with her TV family, even singing at Barry Williams’ wedding (and squashing the rumor that they had had an affair in her memoir “Life Is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond”). Henderson returned to NBC as a host of Later Today for a year, and became a licenses hypnotherapist after her husband John Kappas — who died in 2002 — helped her overcome her stage fright and fear of flying with hypnotherapy.
Henderson appeared in every episode of The Brady Bunch and the various spin-offs: The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, The Brady Girls Get Married, The Brady Brides, The Bradys, and appeared as Grandma in The Brady Bunch Movie.
But she wasn’t just relegated to the Carol Brady role. Henderson made guest appearances on Medical Center, Good Heavens, The Love Boat, 3 Girls 3, Hart to Hart, Police Squad!, Alice, Fantasy Island, Glitter, Finder of Lost Loves, The Love Boat, Day By Day, Murder, She Wrote, Roseanne, The Mommies, Dave’s World, Ellen, Hercules, Ally McBeal, The King of Queens, Samantha Who?, The Cleveland Show, Happily Divorced, 30 Rock, Trophy Wife, Sofia the First and K.C. Undercover.
She also appeared in the films Song of Norway, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, For Heaven’s Sake, Venus & Vegas, The Christmas Bunny, Fifty Shades of Black and had a memorable role in Shakes the Clown. Her last project, Grandmothers Murder Club, is in post-production.
Henderson died surrounded by friends and family at the age of 82 after suffering heart failure, survived by four children and five grandchildren.