The Untold Truth Of Katey Sagal
Katey Sagal was born into a show business family, but she made her own way as a prolific entertainer. She is famous for many roles, most notably Peggy Bundy from “Married… with Children” and Gemma Teller Morrow from “Sons of Anarchy.” The woman behind these characters is classy, engaging, and full of surprising stories. Her work has reached multiple generations of people in powerful ways.
On the personal front, Sagal has been married to Kurt Sutter, a producer, actor, director, and screenwriter, since 2004. She balances her busy acting career with her family life. Along with playing Annie Flynn Ray Bello (aka “Rebel”) on ABC’s new drama, Sagal is a mom of three. Her daughter, Sarah Grace White, also acts and earned a guest spot on “Rebel.” Son Jackson White is an actor, too. Sagal and Sutter’s youngest daughter, Esme Louise Sutter, was born through a surrogate in 2007. Sagal told People that she and Sutter call Esme their “little miracle,” their “beautiful miracle.”
A look at Katey Sagal’s life shows her to be strong, hard-working, and not afraid to step into new territory as an actor and a human being. Sagal received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014 and continues to shine in all that she does.
Katey Sagal had an entire music career before she was known as an actor
Katey Sagal had a thriving career in music before she was known as an actor. In an assessment of Sagal’s various fandoms, Entertainment Weekly determined only 3% of fans are specific to her music. Sagal has been a singer-songwriter since she was in her 20s and has had some impressive gigs throughout her music career.
She toured with Bette Midler as a backup singer and was known as a “Harlette.” The singer explained to Rolling Stone that when she worked with Midler, the Harlettes were more “vocal-heavy” and truly supported the main act. Katey Sagal also sang with Etta James and told Entertainment Weekly, “It was a major, important part of my life, singing with Etta James, being with Bette.” On top of those successful acts, Sagal recorded three solo albums, “Well…” in 1994, “Room” in 2004, and “Covered” in 2013. She said that fans who approach her and applaud her solo albums have “dug deep!”
Admirers of Sagal’s television career might identify her singing voice from her hit drama series, “Sons of Anarchy,” where she sang on four songs for the soundtrack. Sagal also sings and plays percussion and guitar with The Forest Rangers, a band which describes itself as “the musical muse” of “Sons of Anarchy.”
Music is still important to Katey Sagal
Although she is more known for her work on screen, Katey Sagal didn’t always want to act. She told The Seattle Times, “I was very adamantly not going to be an actor. Music was my first love. … But when I was in my late 20s it started to dawn on me that this isn’t really happening. These friends of mine asked me to be in a musical and I got spotted by a theatrical agent. Then within six months I started working, and then within nine months I was on television.” Sagal added that she did not want to be a “struggling artist.”
While Katey Sagal has had many successes in music, she’s occasionally asked about how Bob Dylan fired her when she was a young adult: “I worked with him for like two months in rehearsal, then he fired all of us girls a week before the tour.” Dylan had not bothered to listen to the band members he hired. Sagal is still glad for the experience, saying, “But I still always consider it like I sang with Bob Dylan. I don’t care if it was a week, you know what I mean?”
Katey Sagal struggled with addiction into her 20s
As Katey Sagal worked hard in the music world, she also struggled with addiction. The artist talked with The Hollywood Reporter about her 2017 memoir, “Grace Notes,” in which she discusses those difficult years. Sagal said, “For me to talk about my addictions means I have to start — talk about where it started, which definitely was body image. And I became addicted to diet pills. Then I became addicted to alcohol. I’m sure the influence of growing up in Hollywood had a lot to do with that.” She said that her parents also focused on her body image.
ABC News reported that Sagal began taking the diet pills as a teen and started misusing marijuana, alcohol, “a little cocaine and acid.” It was on a TV set that the actor met a sober confidant and started to find more people focused on sobriety. Speaking to the same outlet in 2017, Sagel stressed the importance of the “one day at a time” approach, which had amounted for her, at that time, to around three decades of sobriety.
Show business runs in Katey Sagal's family
With a family in the entertainment business, Katey Sagal hasn’t been a stranger to the industry. According to The Seattle Times, legendary showrunner Norman Lear introduced Sagal’s parents to one another. Her father, Boris Sagal, was a film and television director with credits dating back to the 1950s. Katey’s mother, Sara Zwilling, was one of Hollywood’s first female producers. Three of Katey’s four siblings were actors, too. Twin sisters Liz Sagal and Jean Sagal got their start as the “Doublemint twins” from the famous commercial and moved to the other side of the camera, each with impressive credits in various departments (especially writing, producing, and story editing for Liz, directing and technical coordinating for Jean). Their brother, Joey Sagal, is an actor, producer, and screenwriter.
Katey Sagal has spoken about the tragedy of losing both of her parents decades ago. Her mother had been sick for much of Katey’s life, and she died in 1975, when Katey was 21. Her father died in a helicopter crash in 1981. Recalling a fond personal memory of her mother with The Hollywood Reporter as she discussed her “Grace Notes” memoir, Sagal said, “I remember my mother teaching me how to play the guitar. I remember her — this sounds so weird, but I can feel her hands showing me how to play the guitar.” As Sagal’s parents clearly did with her, the actor has also passed the performance gene to her two older children.
Katey Sagal been acting since the early '70s
Katey Sagal has officially been an actor for five decades. Her first screen credit on IMDb was in 1971, but after 1975, she was busy performing music for a number of years. By 1985, Sagal was working alongside Mary Tyler Moore in the short-lived comedy series “Mary.” Like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Mary” focuses on its title character’s career, this time as a writer in Chicago. Katey Sagal is Mary’s co-worker, a sharp columnist named Jo Tucker.
“Mary” creator Ken Levine wrote on his blog about Sagal, “We loved her. She was funny, real, and so fresh. … There was just something very special about Katey Sagal.” The blog post also includes a short reel of Sagal with Mary Tyler Moore that showcases Sagal’s incredible singing voice. The actor shared a photo of herself with Mary Tyler Moore following the star’s death in 2017 and tweeted, “One of my first jobs was working with Mary. I am saddened to hear of her death.”
Even though “Mary” only lasted for 13 episodes, it was a respectable sitcom start for Sagal, whose more famous comedic role was right around the corner.
A casting director didn't believe in Katey Sagal
As Katey Sagal delved into the acting world, she came up against some brutal and unfounded criticism from a casting director. Sagal told ABC News that the director told her she’d “never work in television.” The actor elaborated on the situation by saying, “This was in the days of ‘Dallas’ and ‘Dynasty.’ Everybody looked extremely glamorous … I didn’t look that way. I was a musician. I was in bands. I wore a lot of black makeup, a lot of black clothes.”
It’s sad that Katey Sagal was looked down upon for her rocker look and musical talent. When discussing her memoir with The Hollywood Reporter, she added, “I didn’t look like the other people that were on television, which just compounded my already feeling like I’m not pretty enough. I’m too heavy. I’m too this. I’m not gonna fit in.” Sagal has voiced what other actors must have felt about overcoming the worst parts of Hollywood, but there is no doubt her fans are glad she didn’t give up in the face of such oppressive attitudes.
How did Katey Sagal feel about Peggy Bundy?
Peggy Bundy is one of Katey Sagal’s most iconic roles, and she had a hunch from the beginning that there was something different about both her character and “Married… with Children.”
On the “Attitudes” talk show in 1989, Sagal called the Bundy family one “that we haven’t seen on television for awhile … which I think is kind of refreshing. … It’s a different kind of point of view.” She continued, “I adore Peg Bundy. … To me she’s a woman who enjoys her life and does whatever she wants. Sagal found common ground with Peggy’s “zest for life” and noted that the show overall was saying “all the things people think about and nobody likes to say.” When asked to discuss a housewife who disliked the sitcom’s “sexual exploitation” of women, Sagal highlighted a hope for Americans to “see all sides of any picture.” With a fair number of options on TV at that time, Sagal boldly said of the complaining woman, “I really feel like she should change the channel.”
Sagal still had fond memories on the show decades later, telling ABC News in 2017 that she chalked up the success of “Married… with Children,” in spite of all its controversies, to the “great chemistry” she had with co-star Ed O’Neill, as well as the fact the show was undeniably, “hysterically funny.”
She is not too optimistic about a Bundy reboot
Although “Married… with Children” stayed on the air for eleven seasons, it probably won’t be resurrected to join the long lineup of reboots and revivals. Countless interviewers have asked Katey Sagal about the possibility of a “Married… with Children” reboot and have queried Sagal’s interest in such a project.
In 2017, when The Seattle Times asked her if she’d be open to a revival of the controversial Bundy family sitcom, Sagal replied, “I actually would. I thought it would be really fun to do it like on Netflix where we could swear. Every year it kind of comes up.” She didn’t think the scheduling would work out then, and she was just as blunt with TV Insider in 2019: “Everybody’s working, so it feels like there’s no time to do that. It’s funny: The Bundys probably couldn’t get it together.”
Sitcom stars whose successful shows haven’t been rebooted are routinely bombarded with the revival question, and Sagal is a good sport about it. After all, her sitcom helped Fox make a name for itself as a new network in the late 1980s.
After playing Peggy Bundy, Katey Sagal became a Disney Channel icon
For an entire generation of Disney Channel fans, Katey Sagal was the “Smart House” mom before she was anything else. “Smart House” premiered in 1999 and is considered a classic Disney Channel Original Movie. The story centers on Ben Cooper, played by Ryan Merriman, who wins a smart home for his family in hopes of keeping his widowed dad from dating again. Ben and his sister are enamored with the home’s gadgets, many of which were spot-on technological predictions. Katey Sagal plays the Alexa of ’99, PAT (“Personal Applied Technology”). After Ben programs her to be more motherly, PAT soon takes over, escapes from the computer, and appears in a replicable, expanding form.
Sagal is aware that millennials know her for this AI role. With Entertainment Weekly, she estimated a 5% fandom for the role in comparison to the rest of her career. The actor had some funny (and true) insights into her character’s influence: “If you were in the second grade when I did ‘Smart House’, you think I’m a rock star.” Sagal said of PAT, “She was vicious. She turned on everybody. I took my kids to the premiere, and my daughter — who’d never heard me yell — stood up at the middle of the premiere and started crying and just said, ‘That is not my mom!’ and went storming out of the thing. It was traumatic for her. I probably traumatized a lot of second graders.”
Katey Sagal's return to the family sitcom was marked by tragedy
During the “Smart House” era, Katey Sagal lent her talent to other TV mom roles, playing Steven Hyde’s mom, Edna, on “That ’70s Show” and voicing Flo Spinelli, Ashley’s mom on “Recess” (her more famous voiceover part is Turanga Leela on “Futurama”). One of Sagal’s biggest maternal roles came in 2002 with “8 Simple Rules… for Dating My Teenage Daughter.” She played Cate Hennessy opposite John Ritter’s Paul Hennessy.
Sagal loved working with Ritter and knew him from a 1998 TV movie they did together called “Chance of a Lifetime.” The second Sagal knew Ritter was attached to “8 Simple Rules,” she wanted to work with him again, even though producers told her the part would be small. “I said I didn’t really care,” Sagal once told Entertainment Weekly, adding, “I knew that John and I would have a good time together.” Everything changed when John Ritter died in 2003.
As the show went on, Sagal took the lead. In the wake of his death, she missed her co-star and told Entertainment Weekly, “The show is talking about healing and getting on with things, and behind the scenes we’re healing and getting on with things.” Sagal detailed the special bond she had with Ritter, saying both of them approached the sitcom looking expand beyond their “television personas” — Sagal with Peg Bundy and Ritter with Jack Tripper from “Three’s Company” — “to prove ourselves in our own ways.”
Katey Sagal's husband, Kurt Sutter, created one of her most popular roles
Katey Sagal is now known for “Sons of Anarchy” about as much as she’s known for “Married… With Children.” From 2008 to 2014 Sagal played Gemma Teller Morrow on the drama, as the matriarch of a gang of bikers. In 2011, Katey Sagal won the Golden Globe for Best Television Actress – Drama Series for the role. Another fun fact? Sagal’s husband, Kurt Sutter, is the series creator and showrunner.
Chatting with The Seattle Times about the unique opportunity to work together in Hollywood as man and wife, Sagal said that even though her husband is “a really great writer” whom she “would always work with,” “the tendency was to bring it all home,” which contributed to a bit of a rocky personal adjustment period at the start of the series. But they clearly got through that and went on to create seven seasons of the hit show.
Sagal also has Sutter to thank for her musical role in the series. She told Rolling Stone, “He likes the way I sing, so I sang ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ in season one. He just decided that I was going to sing every season, one song every season. … I was pleased to help.”
Everything came full circle for Katey Sagal on The Conners
Katey Sagal struck sitcom gold again with the character Louise, Dan’s girlfriend on “The Conners.” The showrunner of “The Conners,” Bruce Helford, told TV Line in 2020 that Sagal had no desire to leave the series because of her new show, “Rebel”: “The first thing that Katey did [after ‘Rebel’ was picked up] was send us an email saying, ‘Do not hire a new girlfriend for Dan — I am not abdicating my role.'” Indeed, Sagal has been around for much of the sitcom’s third season. Following a crew member’s fatal medical emergency on set (via Decider), a fourth season hasn’t been confirmed at the time of this writing.
Roseanne Barr has not been involved in the reboot since the controversy over her racially divisive tweets in 2018. Yet, Barr has a strange connection with Katey Sagal. Vulture reported in 2011 that Barr could have played Peggy Bundy on “Married… with Children.” The outlet makes the strong claim that “Roseanne” followed “the dysfunctional family model” for which “Married… with Children” was the prototype. The most interesting claim the article makes is that “series creators Michael G. Moye and Ron Leavett originally modeled the parts of Al and Peggy on stand-ups Sam Kinison and Roseanne Barr.” Both comics declined to partake in “Married… with Children,” which writer Bradford Evans astutely points out paved the way for not only Sagal’s sitcom career to take off, but also for that of Ed O’Neill.
Katey Sagal's role on Rebel is all about representation
Katey Sagal is active on Instagram and Twitter as she promotes her series, ABC’s “Rebel.” She spoke with AP Entertainment about her Erin Brokovich-inspired role and praised Rebel’s character, saying she was “proud” to represent both “working moms” and women of her age. TV Insider posed the question, “How excited are you to have a show built around you at this stage of your career?” Sagal answered, “It’s groundbreaking. Men of a certain age have always been in leading roles, but you don’t find many women. I’m in my 60s. Women my age can be hot, vital, vibrant and smart — all the things that we are.”
Variety spoke with Sagal about her role as a “blue-collar legal advocate,” and the actor said that Rebel “really has that voice for people who don’t feel they have one.” On a more personal note, Katey Sagal shared that she must “put aside [her] more maternal instinct” to play Rebel. Sagal characterized Rebel by saying, “She doesn’t handle things the way Katey would handle things, so I’m constantly having to put aside some of my, ‘Well I’ll listen to your point of view’ — because that’s how I function in the world — and really, constantly remind myself she has a thing about justice.”
As always, Sagal is dedicated to portraying her character in the truest light. She has excellent intuition about herself in relation to her roles, and she’s shared her wisdom in a way that resonates with people.
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