Jean Smart’s husband, Richard Gilliland, died unexpectedly on March 18, 2021, of a heart condition at 71.
The 69-year-old actor was in the middle of filming “Hacks” for HBO Max when tragedy struck, leaving her to soldier on through the pain to wrap up filming. She candidly discussed the experience in an interview with the New Yorker on Sunday, revealing the emotions she felt at the time.
When asked if she’d ever thought about writing a memoir, Smart changed course during her response as she processed the events from the last year, revealing that she’d only begun thinking about it over the last six months.
“Before that, I thought, Good God, why would anybody want to read a book about my life? It’s not that interesting,” she said. “And also, I’m too private to tell any of the more interesting parts. So what good would it do? But I’ve been through some personal things in the last year that someday, maybe I’d want to write about.”
Rather than carry on with her response, Smart took a moment to reflect on the loss of her husband, adding, “You know, I feel like I just should say something about my husband, because he passed away very unexpectedly.”
“I still had a week of ‘Hacks’ left to do,” she explained. “That was hard. I had to do a funeral scene. I was a wreck, but it actually turned out to be very funny.”
The “Mare of Easttown” star explained that Gilliland, who was also an actor, was never able to truly show off his acting chops because he set his career aside for her own. “But he was one of those actors who never got the chance to really show what he could do," she said. "A couple of times onstage, he did.”
Gilliland had a recurring role on "Designing Women," where he met his wife, playing the boyfriend of Annie Potts’ character. (“I met him when he was kissing someone else,” Smart joked during a 2017 interview). He also made notable appearances over the years in "Party of Five," "Matlock," "The Waltons," "Thirtysomething," the 1978 television miniseries of "Little Women," "The Unit" and "24."
“But he really sacrificed his career for me to be able to take advantage of my opportunities,” Smart explained. "I wouldn’t have all this, if it wasn’t for him.”
Smart admitted that it has been “really weird” for her since she lost her husband, adding, “It’s not anything I ever dreamed would happen. Not so soon. He made me laugh all the time. That’s going to be hard to live without.”
Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs, two creators of “Hacks,” discussed in an interview with the Playlist Smart’s ability to compartmentalize after the loss of her husband to finish up the season of the show, including filming a funeral scene.
“I’ll just say this. She is somebody who is so committed to the craft and such an incredible actor, and not just for that, but anytime we’d say ‘Hey, this could make this a little easier if you want to do this instead of or that instead.’ and she’d most always ‘No, this is what it says. This is what I’m gonna do,’” Aniello said. “So she’s always going to put herself mind, body, and spirit on the line for what was written in the script (and) we wrote this and did a table read nine months prior.”
Downs added, “She really wanted to finish the show. And she really wanted to be back on set with her set family.”
“And we know how much the show and the character meant to her, so in that respect, we wanted to do whatever she felt comfortable doing,” he said. “And she really wanted to come back and finish, and I think it’s just a testament to how incredible she was.”
According to USA Today, Smart and Gilliland got married in 1987, in cast member Dixie Carter's rose garden. The couple share two children: Connor, 31, and Bonnie Kathleen, 12, who they adopted in 2009.
During an in-depth interview with TODAY last month, Smart said that she wished her husband would have been able to see her most recent projects, “Hacks” and “Mare of Easttown," that both have earned her much critical acclaim and Emmy buzz.
“I just would have liked to have shared these two shows with him,” she said. “I know he loved the ‘Hacks’ script. He thought they were brilliantly written, very funny, and it’s just hard not to share that with him.”