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Designing Women Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

"Designing Women" was a huge hit for CBS in the 1980s and early 1990s. The show — about four sassy Southern belles who work at an interior design firm called "Sugarbakers" in Atlanta, Georgia, and who counsel each other on love, parenthood and the issues of the time — made many of its viewers feel seen and heard. Since it ended its run in 1993, "Designing Women" has become something of a touchstone with modern audiences thanks to its depiction and exploration of domestic abuse, life with HIV, and the horrors of sexual harassment. It continues to pull in hundreds of young viewers due to its availability on streaming services and its appearances on second-run networks such as Antenna TV and FETV.

In October 2020, much of the surviving cast of "Designing Women" reunited to participate in a table read of the pilot, but sadly, the reunion was missing several people. Here are the "Designing Women" stars you may not have known passed away.

Dixie Carter ruled the stage before she ruled the Sugarbaker roost

Known as "the Terminator" for her acid tongue and fearless ability to stick to her guns, Julia Sugarbaker was the centerpiece of the "Designing Women" cast and one of its most memorable characters. The actress who played her, Dixie Carter, was just as outspoken but had completely opposing viewpoints to the fierce character she brought to life; Carter was a registered Republican with Libertarian views, while Julia is a liberal Democrat. To find comfort in these differences, Carter had a unique deal with creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and the show's other producers: For every "Terminator" speech she was required to give, Thomason would allow Carter to sing a song on the show (via Mental Floss).

Singing was something Carter did a lot of before she became a TV star. She appeared in revivals of the musicals "Pal Joey" and "Master Class" in the '70s, and won a Drama Desk Award for her performance in "Fathers and Sons" in 1979, as well as a Theater World Award for her performance in "Jesse and the Bandit Queen."

After appearing in two one-season sitcom wonders — the Garry Marshall "Happy Days" spin-off "Out of the Blue" and the Bloodworth-Thomason sitcom "Filthy Rich" — Carter appeared on "Diff'rent Strokes" as the eventual bride of Mr. Drummond, Maggie McKinney, in the show's second-to-last season. 

Following the conclusion of "Designing Women," Carter scored a number of guest-starring roles and was a regular on "Family Law" for two seasons. She also appeared as Gloria Hodge for seven episodes of "Desperate Housewives."

Carter died on April 10, 2010 at the age of 70 (via Entertainment Weekly). Carter's publicist confirmed that her death was due to complications related to endometrial cancer.

Meshach Taylor had an iconic '80s movie role

When he first appeared on "Designing Women," Meshach Taylor's Anthony Bouvier was a recurring character, but he soon won the hearts of fans and became a regular part of the show. An ex-con who was working on his law degree, Anthony began as a delivery man for the Sugarbakers and ultimately ended up a partner in the design firm. His friendship with ex-beauty queen and full-time diva Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke) was a highlight of the series' run. For his work playing Anthony, Taylor was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series at the 1989 Emmy awards.

Taylor was a stage actor before he joined "Designing Women," and afterwards became a staple on television screens worldwide — notching many guest roles on iconic sitcoms throughout the '80s and '90s, including "Golden Girls" and "ALF." For four seasons, he portrayed Sheldon Baylor on the CBS sitcom "Dave's World," and in 1987, he played the window dresser Hollywood Montrose in "Mannequin" and its 1991 sequel "Mannequin Two: On the Move." Taylor also hosted his own show on HGTV, "The Urban Gardener with Meshach Taylor."

On June 28, 2014, Taylor died of colorectal cancer at the age of 67, as reported by The Los Angeles Times.

Jan Hooks went from SNL to Georgia peach

Brought on to fill a gap in the cast after Jean Smart left the show in 1991, Jan Hooks portrayed the naïve Carlene Frazier Dobber — the cousin of Smart's Charlene Frazier who's looking for a fresh start after her divorce — during the final two seasons of "Designing Women." Prior to appearing on "Designing Women," Hooks was a regular on "Saturday Night Live" from 1986 to 1991.

After "Designing Women," she portrayed Dixie Glick, wife of Jiminy Glick, Martin Short's portly Hollywood interviewer, in the Comedy Central show "Primetime Glick" and the subsequent film "Jiminy Glick in Lalawood." Hooks also voiced Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon on "The Simpsons," and the robot Angleyne in the "Bendless Love" episode of "Futurama." Additionally, she portrayed Vicki Dubcek in "3rd Rock from the Sun," which earned her an Emmy nod, and played Verna Maroney in "30 Rock."

Hooks died of throat cancer on October 9, 2014 at the age of 57.

Alice Ghostley had three iconic sitcom roles

Alice Ghostley was known as the dotty Aunt Esmeralda on "Bewitched" and Cousin Alice on "Mayberry R.F.D." before she became a "Designing Women" fixture, playing the outrageous Bernice Clifton. Forever mangling the name of the design firm even though she went from client to staff member over the seasons, Bernice had an amusingly antagonistic relationship with Anthony Bouvier.

Outside of "Designing Women," Ghostley also appeared on "Julie Andrews Hour" as a semi-regular cast member, and held roles in dozens of sitcoms in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, including "What's Happening!!" "Golden Girls" and "Dharma And Greg". Many will also recall her as Mrs. Murdock, the shop teacher, from 1978's "Grease."

The actress died on September 21, 2007 at the age of 84 (via The New York Times). A series of strokes and colon cancer were named as the causes of death, according to Syracuse.com.

The world lost Reese Watson actor Hal Holbrook in 2021

Hal Holbrook portrayed Julia's love interest Reese Watson in nine episodes during the first four seasons of "Designing Women." The pair had a refined, cultured relationship that contained its ups and downs, but ultimately came to a tragic end when Reese was killed off in season 5. The real reason Holbrook left "Designing Women" was because he'd gotten a role on the sitcom "Evening Shade." 

Among many theatrical credits, Holbrook was very well-known for portraying Mark Twain in the one-man show "Mark Twain Tonight!", for which he won a Tony Award. He played the part for over 60 years, only retiring from it in 2017. Holbrook also essayed the role of Deep Throat in 1976's "All the President's Men." 

The real-life husband of Dixie Carter, to whom he was married from 1984 until her death in 2010, Holbrook died in January 23, 2021 at the age of 95, according to The New York Times. His cause of death wasn't disclosed at press time.

In real life, Richard Gilliland was married to a Designing Women star

Another important man in the world of "Designing Women" was actor Richard Gilliland, who recurred on the show as J. D. Shackelford, the on-again, off-again boyfriend of Annie Potts' character Mary Jo Shivley. Before "Designing Women," he held a recurring role as Sergeant Steve DiMaggio on the '70s police procedural series "McMillan and Wife," and playing Lt. Nick Holden in the TV version of "Operation Petticoat." 

Gilliland's other credits include "The Waltons," the 1978 miniseries "Little Women," "Just Our Luck," "The Love Boat," "Heartland," "Party of Five," "Matlock," "Joan of Arcadia," "Crossing Jordan," "24," "Dexter," "Desperate Housewives," "Torchwood," and "Imposters."

In real life, Gilliland walked away with another of Sugarbaker & Associates' girls. He and Jean Smart, who played the office manager Charlene Frazier, married in 1987, and had a son and a daughter together. Gilliland died on March 18, 2021 at the age of 71 after a brief illness, according to The Hollywood Reporter.