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Top TV Moms: Where Are They Now?

Catch up with the stars of these iconic prime-time shows

  • Alamy, Alamy, Getty Images

    I Remember Mama

    En español | Playing a mom back in the day could be as challenging on television as it was in real life. These beloved actresses had to serve as sounding boards, “straight men,” counselors, coaches, critics, linchpins and foils to the cast members of their TV families. We look at eleven trailblazers — and what they’re up to now.

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    Edie Falco, ‘The Sopranos’ (1999-2007)

    She may not have been the most lovable mom on television, but Falco’s Carmella, the matriarch of the titular Soprano crime family, is without a doubt one of the most memorable to ever grace the small screen. Falco’s TV work didn’t end with the HBO drama—she moved to Showtime for seven seasons to star in Nurse Jackie. And she’s set to appear as a mom again in the military drama Meagan Leavey, due in theaters June 9.

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    Jo Marie Payton, ‘Family Matters’ (1989-1997)

    It already takes plenty of effort to parent your own kids—but for Payton’s Harriette Winslow, the task was made all the more difficult due to the crazy antics of her next-door neighbor, Steve Urkel. From 2001 to 2005, Payton again portrayed a motherly figure, voicing Suga Mama in the Disney Channel’s animated series The Proud Family for four seasons. Her latest film, a live-action retelling of The Little Mermaid, is set for release in 2017.

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    Patricia Richardson, ‘Home Improvement’ (1991-1999)

    “Those perfect sitcom wives of the 1950s and ’60s made me feel inadequate,” Richardson tells AARP. “So when I came onto Home Improvement, I was like, ‘I want to be irritable! I want to have a temper! I want to be shown trying to get my kids and my husband to help with the housework!’ ” Richardson’s battles to make Jill Taylor true to life came in handy for her performance as scrappy M’Lynn Eatenton in Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Playhouse production of Steel Magnolias. A committed philanthropist an organizer, Richardson narrowly lost an election for the presidency of SAG-AFTRA in 2015. 

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    Phylicia Rashad, ‘The Cosby Show’ (1984-1992)

    As Clair Huxtable, the attorney mom of five, Rashad charmed us with her wholesome brand of comedy. “The humor involved in how messy Theo kept his room helped me to laugh more about my own son, William,” she tells AARP. “Because at 13, his room was a wreck, too.” Rashad and her actress daughter, Condola Rashad, 29, recently costarred in the Lifetime Movie Network remake of Steel Magnolias. And no one could lay a glove on Rashad as a boxer’s mom in 2015’s Creed. She’ll be back on screen in 2018’s Black Panther.

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    Roseanne Barr, ‘Roseanne’ (1988-1997)

    This nine-year backlash against the perfect TV moms of yore showcased comedian Barr as an overweight blue-collar worker raising three kids with her husband, Dan, in fictional Lanford, Ill. (Exterior shots were of a home in Evansville, Ind.) Barr’s fearless embrace of social issues made the show a smash during its first season. A comedy legend, she appeared as a judge beside Norm McDonald and Keenen Ivory Wayans on the NBC reality competition Last Comic Standing in 2015.

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    Meredith Baxter, ‘Family Ties’ (1982-1989)

    Ex-hippie Elyse Keaton (Baxter) beautifully played off her Reaganite son, sweater-vested Alex (Michael J. Fox). Real life was less formulaic. As a teen, Baxter tells us, she walked around L.A.’s Laurel Canyon at night, looking in people’s windows. “There had always been a lot of dissension and silence in my own family, so I was stunned to see parents talking to their children with smiles on their faces,” she tells AARP. “I think that’s how a lot of people felt watching Family Ties.” A single mother of two by age 24, Baxter had three more kids with second husband David Birney, got sober in 1989, survived breast cancer in 1999 and married a woman in 2013. She has three grandkids.

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    Mel Harris, ‘Thirtysomething’ (1987-1991)

    In a prime-time soap that defined yuppie angst, Harris was beautiful and believable as Hope Steadman, a young woman who disrupts her career, her sleep and her friendships to stay home and raise her daughter. Harris — herself the mother of a toddler at the time — later starred as double divorcée Carly Davis on the comedy series Something So Right and as an “ascended being” named Oma Desala on Stargate SG-1. She also recently completed the first season of Shut Eye, available to stream on Hulu. 

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    Judith Light, ‘Who’s the Boss?’ (1984-1992)

    On Who’s the Boss? Light played driven, divorced and thoroughly undomesticated ad exec Angela Bower, who hires a male live-in housekeeper (Tony Danza). Later roles found her playing the mother of an HIV-positive teenager (The Ryan White Story) or battling for control of a family business (Ugly Betty). Now she’s changing the TV landscape by starring as the ex-wife of a man (Jeffrey Tambor) transitioning to a woman on Amazon Studios’ Transparent.

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    Joanna Kerns, ‘Growing Pains’ (1985-1992)

    “I’m tall, I have a gravelly voice and I’m bossy,” Kerns tells AARP, “so I always got cast as the mother.” Opposite work-at-home husband Alan Thicke on the Mr. Mom-inflected Growing Pains, she played a journalist with shoulder pads and three kids. The show kicked off a rich career for Kerns as a television director, including episodes of Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: “I love my actors, so I mother my cast.”

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    Katey Sagal, ‘Married With Children’ (1987-1997)

    Sagal has had one mother of a career — from louche Peg Bundy on Married With Children to levelheaded Cate Hennessy on 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter to loose-screw biker matriarch Gemma Teller Morrow on Sons of Anarchy. A former backup singer for Bob Dylan and Bette Midler, Sagal voiced one-eyed Turanga Leela on 124 episodes of far-out Futurama (1999-2013) and has released two solo albums.

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  • Getty Images, Courtesy of CBS

    Alley Mills, ‘The Wonder Years’ (1988-1993)

    “I modeled my character on my best friend’s mom,” Mills says about The Wonder Years’ Norma Arnold, the warm, nurturing mother she played on the 1960s-set dramedy. “My audition scene was a kitchen argument with Jack [actor Dan Lauria]. The other actresses really fought, but I tried to calm Dan down,” she tells AARP, “because I knew family harmony would be Norma’s goal.” Mills has played “bipolar baddie” Pamela Douglas on the enduring daytime soap The Bold and The Beautiful since 2006.

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