Richard Gilliland, the beloved character actor known for his recurring role on the CBS sitcom Designing Women, and husband of Emmy-winner Jean Smart, died March 18 at the age of 71 in Los Angeles after a brief illness, his publicist announced Thursday, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The Airplane II: The Sequel actor also starred on NBC's McMillan & Wife from 1976-77 as Sgt. Steve DiMaggio, ABC's adaptation of Operation Petticoat from 1977-78 as Lt. Nick Holden as well as on ABC's Just Our Luck in 1983 and the CBC's Heartland in 1989. Gilliland also had recurring roles on Party of Five, The Waltons, thirtysomething, Dark Skies and Desperate Housewives and guest appearances on Criminal Minds, Dexter, Becker, Scandal, Joan of Arcadia, The Practice and Crossing Jordan.
Gilliland was born on Jan. 23, 1950 in Fort Worth, Texas, and quickly found his love of performing. He attended the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago and playing Jesus in Godspell alongside Joe Mantegna as Judas before coming to Los Angeles to pursue roles on screen, although he also would act on stage in Cops, Beyond Therapy, I Remember You, Little Egypt and Amadeus.
Designing Women may be Gilliland's most iconic role, as he appeared on 17 episodes of the sitcom as J.D. Shackelford, the boyfriend of Annie Potts' character Mary Jo Shively. It was on this set that he would meet Smart, who joked to the Northwest Prime Time in 2017 that she "met him when he was kissing someone else." Smart revealed she asked co-star Delta Burke to find out if he was married, and once getting the all-clear, "lured" him into her dressing room by pretending she needed help with a crossword puzzle. The pair went on to marry in June 1987 in the garden of the home of Designing Women stars Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook.
Smart and Gilliland welcomed son Connor in October 1989 and adopted daughter Bonnie from China in May 2009. The couple did work together on a number of projects throughout their careers, including 24, It Had to Be You and Love Letters, and the couple had plans to work alongside one another this summer in Breaking News in Yuba County, a film directed by Tate Taylor.
Gilliland is survived by his wife and their children Connor and Bonnie as well as sisters Ann and Wendy and brother John. The family shared that donations in his memory can be made to the M.I.T. Institute for Medical Engineering and Science.