Born to a steelworker father and homemaker mother, Ed O’Neill seemed destined to become a football star. He made it as far as getting signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969, but he was cut during training camp. (Coincidentally, it was the same day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.)
After his football career ended, O’Neill re-enrolled in college at Youngstown State University and began acting. After college, O’Neill worked in regional theater throughout New England and even into Canada. In the early '80s, he appeared in a production of David Mamet’s “Lakeboat,” and struck up a decades-long friendship with the playwright.
He continued working as an actor, appearing in small roles on TV and in film in the early and mid ’80s, with a starring role in a 1986 TV movie follow-up to “The French Connection” called “Popeye Doyle.”
In 1987, O’Neill was living in New York’s Greenwich Village when he was cast as the lead in a sitcom on the brand-new fourth network, Fox. His initial contract was to do six episodes of “Married … With Children,” but the series became a hit and ran for 11 seasons. O’Neill became a star, even though many people referred to him only as his character’s name, Al Bundy.
When the series ended in 1997, O’Neill worked hard to distance himself from his Al Bundy image as a sad sack suburban schlub. He appeared as a policeman in the Denzel Washington thriller “The Bone Collector” and had roles in Mamet’s films “The Spanish Prisoner,” “Spartan” and “Redbelt.”
In 2003, O’Neill played the role of Lt. Joe Friday in a remake of the hit cop series “Dragnet” that lasted two seasons.
O’Neill also starred in David Milch’s HBO series “John From Cincinnati,” which lasted a single season. But in 2009, he landed another hit series, the ensemble comedy “Modern Family.” O’Neill plays the patriarch of an extended family who is helping to raise the son of his (much) younger second wife, played by Sofia Vergara. After a much-remarked upon snub in 2010, O’Neill received his first Emmy nomination for playing Jay Pritchett on “Modern Family.”
O’Neill has been a practitioner of Brazilian jiu-jitsu for 17 years. He married his wife, Catherine Rusoff, in 1986. They separated in 1989, but got back together in 1993 and had their first child. Their second child was born in 1996.