David Birney, 'Bridget Loves Bernie' and 'St. Elsewhere' Actor, Dead at 83

David Birney, best known for his roles in St. Elsewhere and Bridget Loves Bernie, died on Friday at his home in Santa Monica, California. He was 83. Birney was more successful on the stage, but the short-lived Bridget Loves Bernie earned him a spot in television history.

Birney died from Alzheimer's disease, his partner Michele Roberge told The New York Times. He is also survived by his daughters Kate and Mollie Birney, son Peter Baxter, stepdaughter Eva Bush, stepson Ted Bush, two grandchildren, and his brothers Glenn and Gregory. He was married to his Bridget Loves Bernie co-star Meredith Baxter from 1974 to 1989.

Birney starred in several movies and television shows before he was cast as Bernie Steinberg, a Jewish taxi driver and writer, in Bridget Loves Bernie. Baxter starred as the titular Bridget Fitzgerald, a schoolteacher from a wealthy Roman Catholic family. The sitcom broke ground for showing a positive interfaith marriage and aired on CBS between All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Although Bridget Loves Bernie was a rating hit during the 1972-1973 TV season, the show was widely criticized for allegedly promoting interfaith marriage and relying on Jewish stereotypes. CBS ignored the critics but ultimately canceled the show after one season. After the series ended, Birney and Baxter married in real life.

The Bridget Loves Bernie experience did not sour Birney's relationship with television. His next big role was President John Quincy Adams in the 1976 miniseries The Adams Chronicles, which was followed by Serpico, a short-lived series based on the same New York City police detective Al Pacino played in the 1973 movie.


After Serpico was canceled, Birney booked roles in The Love Boat, St. Elsewhere, Master of the Game, Glitter, The Twilight Zone, Seal Morning, and Murder, She Wrote. His final television appearance came in a 2007 episode of Without a Trace. His film credits include Caravan to Vaccares, Trial by Combat, Oh, God! Book II, Prettykill, and Nightfall.

Birney, who was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Cleveland, earned a bachelor's degree in English from Dartmouth College. He turned down a chance to study law to study theater at the University of California, Los Angeles. He earned a master's degree and performed for troops while in the Army. He earned acclaim for his stage performances and made his Broadway debut in Moliere's The Miser in 1969. During the early 1980s, he played Antonio Salieri in Amadeus. He also wrote The Diaries of Adam and Eve, a stage adaptation of Mark Twain's short stories.