Jean Smart Fell for Her Costar Who Sacrificed His Career for Her – Now She’s a Single Mom After His “Unexpected” Loss and Struggles to Move On

Jean Smart met Richard Gilliland, her husband, on the set of “Designing Women”. When Richard was kissing someone else, the co-star couple’s stars aligned. But that’s the nature of life. A few years later, the couple married. Richard continued to give up his work to raise the children at home while Jean pursued film prospects.

Before her untimely death, Jean was blissfully married to her husband for over 30 years. The actress coped with the new, depressed, and lonely life of a widow and single mother. American actress and producer Jean Smart, 71, starred in the TV movie “Designing Women,” a romantic comedy, from 1986-1993. In “Designing Women”, the actress met Richard Gilliland, who later became her husband. Richard sadly passed away in 2021 after they married in 1987.

Jean revealed on The Kelly Clarkson Show that she met her husband while working on the fifth episode of “Designing Women”. When they first met, the Seattle native said Richard pretended to be a friend of one of the show’s characters, Annie Potts:

"Designing Women" Jean Smart as Charlene Frazier Stillfield on set in 1990 | Source: Getty Images

“The program hadn’t even started yet… We were never apart after that day. We talked on the phone for about two hours every day and lived about fifteen minutes apart.” When Jean first saw Richard, she said she fell in love with his smile and the little lines that lined the sides of his eyes.

Richard added that he married Jean after falling deeply in love with her on the set of the show. The actor claimed that one day Delta Burke, Jean’s representative, called him privately and asked about Jean’s marital status. When Richard said no, Delta asked for his phone number so she could give it to Jean.

Delta was a significant factor in Jean and Richard’s relationship. Jean was the one who sent Delta to ask if the actor was married. Delta also recalled Jean’s crush on Richard: “We were talking as we sat after the rehearsal and before the rehearsal. As we were talking, Jean called out, ‘Everybody out. I own this guy.’ Plus, the actress said with a laugh that she first met her husband when he portrayed Annie’s romantic interest: “I met him when he was kissing someone else.”

She was proactive in her pursuit of Richard, the producer noted, bringing him to her trailer when they first met so he could help her with a crossword puzzle. After Jean and Richard said their vows in June 1987, they welcomed Connor Douglas Gilliland as their first child on October 25, 1989. The actress struggled with managing diabetes during her first pregnancy, which was challenging. The star of “The Mare of Easttown” claimed she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 13, but didn’t pay much attention to it until she got pregnant. To ensure that Connor developed normally, Jean stopped smoking, began to carefully control his blood sugar, and changed his diet.

The couple adopted Bonnie Kathleen Gilliland, a girl, as their second child in 2009. Bonnie was ten months old when Jean, her husband, and her son went to East Asia to bring her home. In 2008, Bonnie was born to Chinese parents.

Jean Smart and Robert Gilliland in Los Angeles, California on July 7, 1993 | Source: Getty Images

As the “funniest, smartest, sweetest gift”, the movie diva said she was in love with her adopted child, who slept through the night.

The producer claimed that even though Richard gave up his career to support her by staying at home to raise their son and daughter, she continued to work after having her children. The “Legion” actress admitted that if it weren’t for her husband’s sacrifice, she wouldn’t be in the spotlight today.

The producer noted that she returns home to her family twice a week, even though she was abroad for work, and she took parenting seriously: All I wanted was for my child to know that her mother was still alive. Parental guilt is a difficult emotion. Because that’s when you start to feel like everything is being overlooked.”

The mother of two was also described by her “Hacks” co-star Hannah Einbeider as a “wild bear” who will stop at nothing to make sure her members are okay. As the child of a famous actress, Jean went to great lengths to ensure that her children were protected from prying eyes. She recalled refusing requests for signatures from individuals if she was with her son:

“I would say if I can say no, I hope you’re okay. I’m just a mom today. Once that happened a few times, my son commented, ‘Mom, don’t worry.’ You can sign it. That was beautiful.” The actress mentioned that her husband was a great father who did not have many opportunities to show off his talent, so Jean and Richard showed excellent parenting:

“He was a great father who put the care of our children and our home before his profession. He was extremely talented and it hurts me that he didn’t have the opportunities I had. I was quite lucky to have met him.”The actress from “The Watchmen” lost her husband suddenly on March 18, 2021, due to heart problems. Jean said she was still in shock a year and a half after his death, calling his death “shocking”.

“The way you control the kids, you feel sad and adrenaline for a while. You’re just getting things done, but now that my new existence is slowly becoming apparent, I’m finding it incredibly depressing and isolating.” Jean revealed that she no longer had any motivation to get out of bed other than to go to work or drop off her children at school. She saw that she no longer had the same problem getting out of bed when she was cuddling with her lover.

“It was kind of weird. It’s beyond anything I could have imagined. Not too soon. It’s going to be hard to live without him because he always made me laugh.”

Jean Smart in Los Angeles, California on September 12, 2022 | Source: Getty Images

The mother-of-two also expressed her admiration for Richard’s hands and the tiny laugh lines that formed around his eyes. Jean recalled that her husband always had the biggest smile on his face when he was talking to someone.

However, Jean admitted that returning to her work allowed her to cope with Richard’s death.

She claimed that when she felt bad, work helped her, was pleasant, fulfilled her, and even distracted her.

Jean urged her followers to take care of their health, pay attention to their bodies, and consult their doctors.

The Primetime Emmy winner also opened up about her parents following the death of her husband. She revealed that after Richard’s death, her year was marked by extraordinary ups and downs:

“I never imagined that it would be possible to lose my husband, I believed that it would take at least another 20 years. And with a small child, it was unthinkable.”

The hardest thing I’ve ever done is become a single mother.”

Since Richard no longer stayed home to take care of the children, Jean noted that working and taking care of the children was challenging.

She went on to say that she was really stressed out wondering if her child would eat breakfast, get to school on time, or be picked up from school, as well as who would drive him to appointments.

That’s hard because I think about it all day. I had no idea how hard it was to be a single mom, and I have a lot of resources that other working moms don’t have. It is beyond my imagination.

Richard died when his eldest child was thirty-one and his youngest thirteen. Jean revealed that her highs and lows inspired her to write the memoir. She also mentioned that she had previously opposed the idea:

“Outside of the last six months, I didn’t think about it at all. I wondered why anyone would want to read a book about my life before.”

Plus, I’m too secretive to reveal any of the more interesting details. What would be the benefit then?”

However, Jean claimed to have changed her mind and felt comfortable writing about personal experiences she had, such as her husband’s untimely death.

Jean’s husband died two years ago. After successful cardiac treatment, the actress returned to her career.

She informed her followers on social networks that she is being treated with the following procedure:

“I recently had successful heart treatment and am on the mend. I am fortunate to have excellent medical care from professionals and have family and friends who support me as I continue to heal.”

Jean urged her followers to take care of their health, pay attention to their bodies, and consult their doctors. She concluded that she was glad she had taken this important action.

Some departments filming the third season of “Hacks” also took a break to allow Jean to recover, a person with knowledge of the matter revealed to The Hollywood Reporter. Universal TV and HBO Max also issued a press release:

“We are extremely happy that our dear Jean Smart’s heart surgery went well and that she is on the mend. Best wishes to UTV and HBO Max.”

Jean received many accolades for her flawless performance, which she always credited to her husband. The actress won the 2021 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her work on the HBO series “Hacks.” In her acceptance speech, she stated:

“Before I say anything else, I have to acknowledge my late husband who died yesterday, six months ago. Without him, I wouldn’t be here today and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy all these wonderful opportunities.” I was given to delay his career.

The TV personality also expressed her gratitude to her children for managing her rigorous travel schedule during filming. They were, she said, “brave.” The “Hacks” actress, who played Deborah Vance, also took home the 2022 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

In an interview given after her second Emmy win for her performance in “Hacks,” the producer also mentioned her marriage. Although Jean expressed her happiness at receiving the award, she questioned whether her late husband would be remembered in the “In memoriam” section that evening.

“He won’t confirm to you if he is or not. As a result, I spent most of the evening waiting for the announcement and feeling a little anxious. I thought, ‘This is going to be very hurtful, but I’ll try to explain if he’s somehow included,’ as I was there he was with our youngest child.

The “In Memoriam” portion of the Emmys pays tribute to celebrities and creatives who have died in the previous year. In 2021, Jean was delighted when her wife was mentioned.

Jean Smart and Richard Gilliland in Hollywood, California on October 9, 2017 | Source: Getty Images

The actress’ children, Bonnie and Connor, often accompany her to the awards ceremony. Transgender Bonnie Gilliland is now known as Forrest Gilliland. In 2022, Jean and Forrest attended the Screen Actors Guild Awards together.

For her performance in “Hacks,” “The Mad About You” actress was awarded the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Comedy Series. During her acceptance speech, she mentioned her children:

This late in the game was such a treat; it was such a thrill. Forrest and Connor, my two children, you two are my whole life. Let us all pray for peace, please. I’m grateful.

Along with her son, Jean also attended the Emmys 2021. The two of them walked the red carpet. The actress participated in this event for the first time after the death of her husband.

I asked Forrest on the red carpet what he thought of his mother’s nomination for her role in “Hacks.” In response, son Jean expressed his pride in her mother, saying she truly deserved it because she “worked really hard at everything.”

After losing her husband, Jean is now trying to move and start a “new life” by selling the house they share and moving out.

The actress paid $5.25 million for her new home in Los Angeles, Toluca Lake, California.

The venerable television writer and producer Donald Todd once owned the mansion, which was first built in 1924. Comedian George Lopez also bought the house in 2004 and moved in with his family.

In 2011, George and his wife Ann Serrano divorced. After Ann took possession of the house, she sold it to Jean in 2022, and Jean has since moved in with her two children.

Jean Smart’s life journey is a powerful tale of love, loss, and resilience. Her story begins with an unexpected romance that blossomed on the set of “Designing Women,” leading to a deeply loved marriage to Richard Gilliland. Despite their unconventional beginnings, their union became the foundation of the family and a source of strength for more than three decades. Richard’s dedication to their home and children allowed Jean to continue her thriving career, a testament to their deep partnership.

Their life together was marked by moments of joy and challenges, including Jean’s battle with diabetes and the couple’s decision to adopt a daughter, Bonnie. Through it all, Richard’s unwavering support and love were constant, shaping the educational environment for their children and enabling Jean to achieve remarkable professional success.

Richard’s untimely death in 2021 was a devastating blow, leaving Jean to navigate the complexities of widowhood and single parenthood. Despite her grief, she found solace in her work, which provided both a distraction and a source of fulfillment. Her return to acting after the loss demonstrated her resilience and dedication to her craft, culminating in multiple Emmy wins for her role in “Hacks.” These honors, while bittersweet, served as a tribute to Richard’s lasting influence on her life and career.

Jean’s candid reflections on her experiences highlight the dualities of her journey—moments of immense professional success combined with personal heartbreak. Her devotion to her children, Forrest and Connor, underscores her strength and the depth of her motherly love, even as she copes with the void left by Richard’s absence. The transition to a new life, marked by the sale of their shared home and the purchase of a new mansion, symbolizes Jean’s continued effort to move forward while honoring the past.

Jean Smart’s narrative is not only the story of a successful actress but also of a woman who faced life’s trials with grace and determination. Her story resonates with anyone who has experienced loss and the challenge of rebuilding. It is a testament to the enduring power of love, the importance of family, and the tenacity necessary to overcome life’s vicissitudes. As she continues to evolve both personally and professionally, Jean Smart remains an impressive example of strength and perseverance, inspiring others through her journey of love, loss, and recovery.

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