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Richard Gilliland, a busy character actor whose credits included a recurring role on the CBS sitcom Designing Women, where he met his future wife, Emmy winner Jean Smart, died March 18 in Los Angeles after a brief illness, a publicist announced. He was 71.
The Texas native starred as Sgt. Steve DiMaggio on NBC’s McMillan & Wife in 1976-77 and as Lt. Nick Holden on ABC’s adaptation of Operation Petticoat in 1977-78, and he was a series regular on ABC’s Just Our Luck in 1983 and the CBC’s Heartland in 1989.
Gilliland also had recurring roles on other shows including Party of Five, The Waltons, thirtysomething, Dark Skies and Desperate Housewives and guest-starring appearances on Criminal Minds, Dexter, Becker, Scandal, Joan of Arcadia, The Practice and Crossing Jordan, among many other shows.
In 1986, Gilliland arrived on Designing Women in its first season as J.D. Shackelford, the boyfriend of Annie Potts’ Mary Jo Shively, and he went on to work on 17 episodes of the series through 1991.
“I met him when he was kissing someone else,” Smart said with a laugh during a 2017 interview. She said she asked castmember Delta Burke to find out if he were married.
Smart, who portrayed Charlene Frazier Stillfield on the series, said she “lured” Gilliland into her dressing room under the pretext of needing help with a crossword puzzle. They married in June 1987 in the rose garden of the home of Designing Women actors Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook.
The couple also worked together on the stage in It Had to Be You and Love Letters, on the Fox series 24 — he was Captain Stan Cotter in the fifth season, she was the first lady — and in the telefilms Just My Imagination and Audrey’s Rain.
He was slated to work alongside his wife this summer in Breaking News in Yuba County, a film directed by Tate Taylor.
Richard Morris Gilliland was born on Jan. 23, 1950, in Fort Worth. He attended the prestigious Goodman School of Drama in Chicago and played Jesus in Godspell for a year opposite Joe Mantegna as Judas before coming to Los Angeles.
He also acted on stage in L.A., Chicago and off-Broadway in Cops, Beyond Therapy, I Remember You, Little Egypt and Amadeus (as Salieri) and in films including Bug (1975) and Airplane II: The Sequel (1982).
Survivors also include children Connor and Bonnie, sisters Ann and Wendy and brother John. Donations in his memory can be made to the M.I.T. Institute for Medical Engineering and Science.
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