Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Mama's Family Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

"Mama's Family" is one of the more surprising spin-off success stories. When a sketch show spins off one extremely heightened character, it's usually into high concept films like "Wayne's World." Or, even more likely, it turns out like box office bombs like "It's Pat!" or "The Ladies' Man." Though it wasn't a movie, "Mama's Family" was spun off from "The Carol Burnett Show" in 1983, where Vicki Lawrence originated the character of Thelma "Mama" Harper. On "The Carol Burnett Show," the action centered on Carol Burnett, naturally. According to MeTV, where the show still airs in reruns, it was costume designer Bob Mackie's idea to have Lawrence play Burnett's mother, despite being 16 years younger than her "daughter."

"Mama's Family" told the story of the Harpers: wise-cracking and hot-tempered Mama (Lawrence), her dopey son Vinton (Ken Berry), his flirtatious wife Naomi (Dorothy Lyman), Mama's eldest daughter Ellen (Betty White), and cantankerous middle child Eunice (Burnett). We also saw a lot of Eunice's family, her husband Ed (Harvey Korman), and son Bubba (Allan Kayser). The show ran on network TV for two seasons, from 1983 to 1984, then moved to first run syndication, like "Xena" or "Baywatch," in 1986, and ran for another four seasons until the show ended in 1990. It became even more popular in syndication, and is still running on TV today.

That last episode aired 31 years ago, so needless to say, not everyone in the cast of "Mama's Family" is still around today. Here are the "Mama's Family" actors you may not know passed away.

Ken Berry

Ken Berry played Vinton Harper, the baby boy of Mama's family, in both the network and syndication runs of the show. The series started with Vint's first wife, Mitzi, leaving him and their children. Vint moves back in with his mother and falls for next door neighbor Naomi. They marry, and rather than Vint moving in with Naomi, she moves into Mama's basement with Vint.

Vint and Naomi live in the basement for the majority of the series. Now, during the NBC run of the show, Thelma's large room upstairs was occupied by Aunt Fran (Rue McClanahan). But even after the syndication run began without McClanahan, Vint and Naomi stayed in the basement.

Ken Berry died in 2018 at the age of 85. Beyond "Mama's Family," Berry starred in "F Troop" and "The Andy Griffith Show" spin-off "Mayberry R.F.D." He also starred in some Disney live action films available on Disney+, like "The Cat from Outer Space" and "Herbie Rides Again."

Harvey Korman

As a series regular on "The Carol Burnett Show," Harvey Korman was part of "Mama's Family" from the beginning. He played Eunice's doltish husband Ed, who runs a hardware store, and is constantly picked at by Eunice. They have a son, Bubba, who comes to live with Mama after Ed and Eunice move to Florida while he's in juvie. Korman also served as a director on the show.

Korman and Burnett did not return for the syndicated version of "Mama's Family," as Burnett was divorcing her husband/executive producer Joe Hamilton. Hamilton owned the "Mama's Family" IP and resurrected the show without his ex-wife.

Korman is also known for his film work with Mel Brooks. Korman first joined the Brooks outfit with 1974's "Blazing Saddles." Korman appeared in the Brooks films "High Anxiety," "History of the World Pt. 1," and "Dracula: Dead, and Loving It."

Harvey Korman died of complications from an abdominal aortic aneurysm in 2008 at the age of 81. "You could get rock-solid comedy out of him," Brooks told the Associated Press. "He could lift the material. He always made it real, always made it work, always believed in characters he was doing."

Rue McClanahan

Rue McClanahan played Mama's spinster sister Fran during the NBC run of the show. It was a far cry from her lascivious "Golden Girls" character, Blanche Devereaux. Fran worked at the local newspaper and was much more uptight than the rest of the Harper clan.

McClanahan worked with her future "Golden Girls" co-star Betty White on the show, who played Thelma Harper's eldest — Ellen Harper Jackson. She also worked with Bea Arthur before "Golden Girls," playing Maude's best friend on "Maude," an "All in the Family" spin-off starring Arthur. It was "The Golden Girls" that prevented both McClanahan and White from reprising their roles when "Mama's Family" came back in syndication. Her absence was explained by having her character, Fran, choke to death on a toothpick off-screen.

McClanahan died in 2010 after suffering a brain hemorrhage, per the New York Times. She was survived by her sixth husband, Morrow Wilson, as well as her son Mark.

Dorothy Van

Dorothy Van played Aunt Effie on "Mama's Family," and she also wrote several episodes. Breaking into sitcom writing as a woman was exceptionally tough during that time period, as satirized in the "30 Rock" episode "Rosemary's Baby." But Van not only wrote for "Mama's Family," but also for "Silver Spoons," "Punky Brewster," and "Major Dad." One of Van's "Mama's Family" episodes, "Rashomama," is in the long tradition of sitcoms doing their own version of the unreliable narrator structure of Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon." Other sitcoms to have a "Rashomon" episode include "All in the Family," "Frasier," and "Coupling."

Aunt Effie appeared in both the NBC and syndicated versions of the show. According to MeTV, Van and Ken Berry both came from the small town of Moline, IL, and became good friends while working together. She also befriended her childhood idol, Shirley Temple, when the two attended the same Methodist church in Los Angeles. Van died in 2002. She was 74.

Anne Haney

Anne Haney played Thelma's nemesis, Alberta Meechum. Alberta was Reverend Meechum's wife, and a one-time president of Church Ladies League, also known as the CLL. Alberta was judgey and gossipy, presaging Helen Lovejoy of "The Simpsons" fame. Like Helen, Alberta uses her place of privilege to look down on her husband's congregants. Both characters also meddle in their congregants' lives under the auspices of saving their souls.

Anne Haney is perhaps best remembered by millennials for her no-nonsense older woman roles in "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Liar, Liar." In "Mrs. Doubtfire," she played Mrs. Sellner the social worker. Daniel (Robin Williams) attempts to joke his way into shared custody, but Mrs. Sellner is the world's toughest laugh. In "Liar, Liar," she played the secretary of Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey). If you needed someone to pretend to be unamused by the antics of a hyperactive leading man, Haney was your gal.

Haney died in 2001 of congestive heart failure. She was 67. Haney only started acting in her mid-40s, saying that she started acting because "My husband died, my daughter went to college, the dog got fleas and the maid quit." According to the Chicago Tribune, she had over 50 acting credits in her 20 short years of acting.

Marge Redmond

Marge Redmond was the second actor to play Lolly Purdue, Thelma's friend and her successor as president of the CLL. She is the focus of the Season 5 episode "Reading the Riot Act," in which it is revealed that she's illiterate. It is something of a Very Special Episode, where Mama learns that her friend cannot read and starts an initiative to tackle adult illiteracy.

Redmond's biggest TV role was as one of the grounded nuns in "The Flying Nun." Sally Field starred as Sister Bertrille, a nun so skinny that she can fly when her habit picks up a passing breeze. Redmond played Sister Jacqueline, a level-headed nun and friend of Sister Bertrille. She also narrated every episode.

Marge Redmond died in February 2020 at the age of 95. In her Hollywood Reporter obituary, her ex-husband Jack Weston was quoted celebrating her gig as a spokeswoman for Cool Whip in the '70s, saying "She works five days a year and makes six figures."

Geoffrey Lewis

Geoffrey Lewis played Claude Cainmaker on "Mama's Family," Vint's less-than-reputable friend. Claude appears in two Season 1 episodes: "Alien Marriage" and "Mama's Silver." In "Alien Marriage," Claude talks Vint into a Green Card marriage scheme with a woman from Portugal. In "Mama's Silver," Vinton pawns the titular silver to bail Claude out of jail. As Claude is never seen again, we can assume this was the last straw for Mama.

Geoffrey Lewis was a character actor, who worked in over 200 projects aside from "Mama's Family." His LA Times obituary highlighted his frequent collaboration with Clint Eastwood. He worked with Eastwood in such films as "Every Which Way But Loose" and its sequel "Any Which Way You Can," "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," "Bronco Billy," and "High Plains Drifter."

Lewis is the father of actor Juliette Lewis. The two appeared together in 2000's "The Way of the Gun" and 2004's "Blueberry." According to his Variety obituary, Lewis died of a heart attack in 2015. He was 79.