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Jean Smart Recalls Unexpected Death of Late Husband Richard Gilliland

Jean Smart Recalls Unexpected Death of Late Husband Richard Gilliland

Jean Smart is reflecting on her late husband’s death.

In a sit-down interview on Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace? on Max, Smart recalled the shock of Richard Gilliland’s dying March 2021 due to a heart condition.

Smart described the ordeal as “the worst.” She continued, “Because it was such a shock. It was so unexpected. And, you know, I thought he had COVID or something. The places I took him to, to get him tested didn’t do anything except a COVID test.”

After Gilliland passed away, Smart said she “went back to one of those places” and asked to see whoever was in charge that day. “I said, ‘Let me ask you something.’ I said ‘If I brought my 71-year-old husband in here, who was complaining of pain when you take deep breaths —,’ and I said, ‘What would you do for him?’ He said, ‘Well, first thing we do is an EKG.’ I said, ‘He died last week. Why didn’t you do that?’”

She then explained that in the time that passed, Gilliland had developed pneumonia and a heart attack in the hospital. “Which is why they couldn’t operate on him because in that time period that we had lost, he had developed pneumonia. So they put in a stent to try to hold him ’til the pneumonia got dealt with and they could operate. But it was too late.”

When Wallace asked whether now that time has passed, if she’s been able to put things “in perspective and move on,” Smart said she has but “just this year.”

“It’s been three years, which sometimes I cannot even believe,” she said, noting that it’s different than losing a parent.

“I’ve lost a sibling. That’s a different, whole different experience. Losing your mate of 35 years. I mean, literally half my life I lived with him is just kind of indescribable,” she said. “And it just you go through this period of thinking it’s just not real. It’s just this isn’t real. You know? … This just doesn’t make any sense.”

Smart met Gilliland when he was a guest star on the sitcom, Designing Women. “We just kind of bonded instantly. We were never apart from that day,” she recalled. The couple shared two sons.

After winning the Emmy for lead actress in a comedy series for her turn as Deborah Vance on HBO Max’s Hacks at the 2021 Emmy Awards, Smart dedicated the trophy to her late husband: “I have to acknowledge my late husband, who passed away six months yesterday. I would not be here without him, without his putting his career on the back burner so I could take advantage of all the incredible opportunities I have.” She also thanked her two children for being “very courageous individuals in their own right.”

She later told The Hollywood Reporter that she was nervous to see whether Gilliland would be featured in the In Memoriam segment. “I was very worried because they won’t guarantee to you that [a person will be included]. I don’t know why they can’t tell you maybe the day of the ceremony because I don’t think they’re going to change it the day of, but it’s just their policy that they can’t promise anybody,” Smart told THR at the recent Women in Film honors.

“I was sure he would be included because he’s so deserving and had worked in this industry for 40 years, but I just thought, ‘What if he’s not included? What will I do?’”

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Following Gilliland’s death, Smart shared that she underwent a “successful heart procedure” last year.

“I mean that was a shocker,” Smart said. “I felt the absolute worst about having to call my two children and say I’m in the hospital … less than two years since they lost their dad. And my little one was only 12 when his dad died.”

She recalled filming a scene in which her Hacks character Deborah was dancing at a fraternity party and doing a keg stand when she felt winded. “And I just felt like, sometimes if you climb a couple of flights of stairs and it’s jut a little kind of pressure,” she explained.

After having a “nagging” feeling and asked herself “Do you want these kids to be orphans?” she went and got tested.

“I just had a blockage and it’s from the diabetes. I mean I’ve never had high blood pressure. I’ve never had high cholesterol. But the years of diabetes can cause that. That was shocking,” she said before confirming that all is good now.

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