Celebrities die every year, and every year people bemoan the passing of an era. But 2016 seems to have delivered a string of “big ones” … stars that not only embodied characters or messages but entire industries or cultural totems. Florence Henderson is no exception.
The former Broadway star found super stardom as America’s mom, Carol Brady, on the Brady Bunch. Generations of American children grew up watching first run or syndicated episodes detailing how the lady who met her fellow and made a family.
The 82-year-old Henderson died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA the day after being hospitalized. Heart failure, they said. Family and friends were at her side … but tens of millions more extended family and friends – the fans that loved the blonde suburban mom she played on TV – felt the loss deeply as well.
The Brady Bunch was an amalgam of two fictional single-parent families, whose typical suburban adventures always seemed to become more than the sum of their parts. There are the iconic phrases – “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha” – the over-the-top dated wardrobes and hairstyles, and the episodes everyone remembers.
But, more than anything, even more than Dad Brady’s terse, sitcom lectures, people remember the bright, direct presence that was Mom Brady. She was strong and gentle, hard but yielding. Someone who could listen but also tell you How It Is.
The cast and their chemistry resonated with audiences, at one point compelling Henderson to quip, “We were like the Beatles … we couldn’t go out by ourselves… We had to have security…”
Henderson came back to the group as Gramma Brady in The Brady Bunch Movie, a playful poke at the show and the character that defined her career. Despite the myriad jokes at her expense, and on the show itself, Henderson took on the role with the same good humor that shone through the sometimes turbulent years on the set of The Brady Bunch. Throughout it all, she stayed true to what countless fans loved about her … understanding more than many, that her fame was due as much to what her fans loved about her as to what she brought to the table.
This is an important lesson for any brand or personality that wants to leave a legacy beyond their time in the spotlight. They need to understand what they mean to the audience and embrace that … because, without the buyers, you can’t sell anything.