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What Happened To The Cast Of Designing Women

In 1986, one of the most beloved and influential television shows of its era premiered on CBS. Created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, a veteran of shows like Filthy Rich and Lime Street, Designing Women followed the lives and misadventures of a quartet of women running an interior design firm in Atlanta. Sharp-witted but always willing to get a little slapstick when the situation called for it, the series quickly drew fans thanks to the interplay between the title characters, the comedic stylings of star Delta Burke, and star Dixie Carter's sharp-tongued rants in character as the firm's president, the inimitable Julia Sugarbaker.

Designing Women went off the air in 1993 after seven successful seasons that saw several key cast shake-ups and changes to the central dynamic, but today it remains a beloved sitcom frequently rewatched in reruns and via streaming services. Though the cast parted ways at the end of the series, all of them went to continue working regularly, and though some are no longer with us, they all left a lasting impression. This is what happened to the cast of Designing Women.

Dixie Carter - Julia Sugarbaker

Dixie Carter made her breakthrough on Broadway in the 1970s before transitioning to television and launching what would become a decades-long streak of memorable roles on various series, beginning with the soap The Edge of Night in 1974. She followed that work up with roles on The Doctors, On Our Own, Out of the Blue, Filthy Rich, and Diff'rent Strokes before she landed the roles for which she'd become most famous. As Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women, Carter became the core of the show as both the head of the company that bore her name and the comedic anchor through the various "Terminator" rants Julia conducted throughout the series.

After Designing Women, Carter continued appearing regularly in film and television, and added even more major series roles including Ladies Man, Family Law, and Desperate Housewives, for which she received her only Primetime Emmy nomination. Her final film, That Evening Sun, was a collaboration with her husband, actor Hal Holbrook. She died of complications from cancer on April 10, 2010, at the age of 70.

Delta Burke - Suzanne Sugarbaker

A former beauty queen who transitioned into acting, Delta Burke made her TV breakthrough in 1980 with a supporting role in the miniseries The Chisholms, and steady acting work soon followed. She logged a number of major roles in the 1980s and beyond, including work on Filthy Rich (along with future co-star Dixie Carter), The Love Boat, and 1st & Ten.

As Suzanne Sugabarker on Designing Women, Burke became a national superstar, earning two consecutive Primetime Emmy nominations for her role as the former beauty queen who serially dates older men and acts as a comedic foil to her sister Julia.

After a public falling out with Designing Women creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Burke was fired from the series in 1991. She launched her own sitcom, Delta, a year later, but the show was short-lived, and she eventually reconciled with Bloodworth-Thomason for the Designing Women spinoff series Women of the House, in which she again played Suzanne. She continued working regularly throughout the 1990s with roles in shows like Popular and Touched by an Angel, and her last major TV appearance was on Boston Legal in the mid-2000s. She continues acting periodically, most recently in an episode of Dolly Parton's Heartstrings.

Annie Potts - Mary Jo Shively

Annie Potts' screen acting career began in the late 1970s with roles in TV series like Hollywood High, Busting Loose, and Goodtime Girls, but her real pop culture breakthrough came in the mid-1980s. In 1984, she became a comedy icon when she was cast as the receptionist Janine in Ghostbusters, and in 1986 she hit teen movie immortality as Iona in Pretty in Pink. The same year, she began work on Designing Women.

As chief designer Mary Jo Shively, Potts became the resident snarky voice of Designing Women, and was one of only three main cast members to remain on the series for its entire run. After the show ended she continued working regularly in film and television, with roles including Love & War, Dangerous Minds, Any Day Now, Joan of Arcadia, Men in Trees, The Fosters, and most recently, Young Sheldon. She's also gained a generation of younger fans as the voice of Bo Peep in the Toy Story films, and in 2021 she's set to reprise her role as Janine in the sequel film Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

Jean Smart - Charlene Frazier

Jean Smart began her career in theater before transitioning to television in the 1980s with roles in series like Teachers Only, Reggie, and Maximum Security before joining the cast of Designing Women. As Charlene Frazier, Sugarbaker's sometimes air-headed office manager, she brought a light-hearted sense of fun to the crew thanks to tales of her large family and her overwhelming love of Elvis Presley.

Smart left Designing Women after five seasons (though she guest-starred in season 6) to pursue other projects, and continued working regularly in film and television throughout the '90s and 2000s, with high-profile roles including work on Frasier, The Oblongs, and The District. Though she never really stopped working, the 21st century has brought a new level of acclaim for Smart's work, thanks to appearances on Samantha Who?, Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce, Dirty John, Fargo, and Legion. In 2019, she portrayed Laurie Blake in the HBO miniseries Watchmen, and her subsequent projects include Mare of Easttown and an untitled upcoming project for HBO Max. Throughout her career she has been nominated for nine Primetime Emmy Awards, winning three times.

Meshach Taylor - Anthony Bouvier

After beginning his career in theater, Meshach Taylor moved to Los Angeles to pursue film and TV acting in the 1970s, and quickly began building a resume of roles on shows like Lou Grant and M*A*S*H* and in films including Damien: Omen II and The Howling. His major breakthrough came in the mid-1980s with two key roles, one as the scene-stealing Hollywood Montrose in Mannequin, and the other as Anthony Bouvier on Designing Women.

Though he was originally only a recurring cast member, Taylor's popularity and acclaim (including a Primetime Emmy nomination) on the series led to him becoming one of the show's top-billed stars beginning with season 3, and he became one of only three main cast members (alongside Dixie Carter and Annie Potts) to serve the full length of the series. After Designing Women's run ended he joined the TV series Dave's World and continued to work regularly throughout the 1990s and 2000s, gaining a new generation of fans through Nickelodeon's Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide. His last role was a guest starring appearance on Criminal Minds. He died of cancer on June 28, 2014, at the age of 67.

Jan Hooks - Carlene Frazier-Dobber

After working in live comedy through troupes like The Groundlings, Jan Hooks transitioned to TV comedy in the early 1980s with shows like Tush and Not Necessarily the News before she landed a contract at Saturday Night Live. She became one of the show's key comedy stars in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, impersonating everyone from Greta Garbo to Sinead O'Connor and co-creating beloved characters the Sweeney Sisters with Nora Dunn.

Hooks joined the cast of Designing Women in 1991 during the first major round of cast shake-ups on the series, replacing Jean Smart by portraying Charlene's aloof and eccentric sister Darlene. She quickly became a key comedic fixture of the series, and stayed for the final two seasons.

After Designing Women, Hooks continued to log major comedic appearances in shows like 3rd Rock from the Sun, Primetime Glick, and The Simpsons, though her career slowed in the 21st century. Her final roles were guest-starring spots on 30 Rock and The Cleveland Show. She died of cancer on October 9, 2014, at the age of 57.

Julia Duffy - Allison Sugarbaker

After launching her TV career in the 1970s with a recurring role on the soap The Doctors and working in the theater, Julia Duffy became a sitcom icon when she joined the cast of Newhart in 1983 as Stephanie Vanderkellen. She remained on the show for seven seasons and earned seven consecutive Primetime Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe award for the role, forever cementing her place in sitcom history.

After a season of the series Baby Talk, Duffy joined Designing Women alongside Jan Hooks in season 6 as Allison Sugarbaker, Julia and Suzanne's conservative cousin who becomes a partner in the firm after Suzanne's departure. Duffy remained on the series for just one season before departing and launching another sitcom, The Mommies. Since then she has continued working regularly, earning frequent guest starring spots on shows ranging from Reba to Drake & Josh to Passions. Her more recent credits include Shameless, Looking, The Cool Kids, and the TV movie Christmas at the Plaza.

Judith Ivey - BJ Poteet

Judith Ivey began establishing herself as a formidable acting force on both stage and screen in the early 1980s, winning Tony Awards for performances in Hurlyburly and Steaming and appearing in TV series including Search for Tomorrow and Long Hot Summer and films including Brighton Beach Memoirs. After appearing on the TV series Down Home in 1991, she joined the cast of Designing Women for its final season in 1992, replacing Julia Duffy's character. As B.J. Poteet, a millionaire who becomes Sugarbaker's new partner, she helped fill a similar comedic role to Delta Burke's Suzanne, though she was only on the series for one season until the series finale in 1993.

Ivey has since continued to work regularly in film, television, and theater, where she's also established herself as an accomplished director. Her other major screen credits include The Critic, Buddies, White Collar, Flags of Our Fathers, The Family and more. Most recently she's been seen in New Amsterdam and The Accidental Wolf.

Alice Ghostley - Bernice Clifton

By the time she joined the cast of Designing Women, Alice Ghostley was already television royalty several times over. Her career on the small screen dates all the way back to the 1950s, but she really gained prominence when she was cast as Esmeralda on the hit sitcom Bewitched, a role she held for the show's final three seasons. Other major pre-Designing Women credits included the Andy Griffith Show spinoff Mayberry R.F.D., To Kill a Mockingbird, Love, American Style, and Grease.

As Bernice Clifton, a family friend of the Sugarbaker sisters who was known for her outrageous wardrobe and even more outrageous lines, Ghostley was a frequent scene-stealer on Designing Women, earning a Primetime Emmy nomination for her performance and remaining a fixture of the show as a special guest star for its entire run. After Designing Women ended she continued working regularly, appearing in shows like Evening Shade and Passions and lending her voice to series like Channel Umptee-3 and Hercules. She died in 2007, at the age of 84.