Jean Smart's Emotional Tribute to Her Late Husband Was a Special 2021 Emmys Moment

Jean Smart paid tribute to her late husband, actor Richard Gilliland when she picked up an Emmy Sunday night for her performance in the HBO Max comedy Hacks. Gilliland died unexpectedly while Smart was finishing work on the acclaimed series, which features Smart as Las Vegas diva comedian Deborah Vance. Smart was also nominated for the HBO limited series Mare of Easttown.

"Before I say anything else, I have to acknowledge my late husband Richard Gilliland, who passed away six months yesterday," Smart said at the start of her acceptance speech. "I would not be here without him and without his kind of putting his career on the back burner, so I could take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities that I have had."

Smart also thanked her "incredible" and "unselfish" children, Connor and Forrest. She called them "creative individuals" who "put up with Mommy commuting from Philadelphia and back." She also called filming Hacks "such a thrill" and a show she had to make. She also gave her co-star Hannah Einbender a new nickname, calling her "Mind-Bender Einbender." This is now her "actual name," Smart joked, adding, "No, I'm kidding, but I could not have asked for a person to bounce everything off of every day. She is a natural. She is a precious human being. She is incredible and every day we go to work is a joy."

Smart's victory in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series is her fourth win at the Emmys. She won her first two Emmys in 2000 and 2001 for Frasier, then picked up her third in 2008 for Samantha Who?. This year, she was also nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for Mare of Easttown but lost to her co-star, Julianne Nicholson. Hacks has already been renewed for a second season, so this could be the first of many awards for Smart as Deborah Vance.


In a June interview with The New Yorker, Smart said she was a "wreck" after Gilliland's death in March. She still had one week of filming left to do on Hacks. "I had to do a funeral scene. I was a wreck, but it actually turned out to be very funny," Smart explained. "But he was one of those actors who never got the chance to really show what he could do. A couple of times on stage, he did. But he really sacrificed his career for me to be able to take advantage of my opportunities. I wouldn't have all this if it wasn't for him."