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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 twelve 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. In her latest movie, Outside In, Falco plays a middle-aged high school teacher trapped in a boring marriage.

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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. In September 2017, the Family Matters cast members reunited for an interview with Entertainment Weekly, in which they talked about their desire for a revival of the sitcom. Fingers crossed!

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

    “Those perfect sitcom wives of the 1950s and ’60s made me feel inadequate,” Richardson told AARP in 2016. “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. In early May 2018, Up TV announced that it had licensed the cable rights to all eight seasons of Home Improvement

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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 told AARP in 2016. “Because at 13, his room was a wreck, too.” Although best known as an actor, Rashad is directing Our Lady of  121st Street at New York City’s Signature Theatre (May 1-June 10) and The Roommate at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago (June 21-Aug. 6).

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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. This year, ABC rolled out a reboot of the sitcom, 21 years after the wrap of Season 9. Barr tells AARP, “As you get older, you’re not only more grateful, but you’re more in the moment. Things are more meaningful. You don’t want to just get through it. I was always racing to get to the punch line. Now it’s just, like, well, I’m leaving it there.”

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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 told AARP in 2016. “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. In April 2018, she reunited with her TV husband, Michael Gross, at the Bucks County Playhouse in Pennsylvania to perform A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters.

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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. Currently she appears in the Bravo series, Imposters, which just started its second season.

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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). More recently she changed the TV landscape by starring as the ex-wife of a man (Jeffrey Tambor) transitioning to a woman on Amazon Studios’ Transparent. That show is slated to end after its upcoming fifth season.

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

    “I’m tall, I have a gravelly voice and I’m bossy,” Kerns told AARP in 2016, “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.” In 2017, Kerns revealed she had undergone a double mastectomy after learning of a breast cancer diagnosis.

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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. Sagal’s back on TV, currently starring in the CBS comedy Superior Donuts as a police officer named Randy DeLuca.

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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 told AARP in 2016, “because I knew family harmony would be Norma’s goal.” Earlier this year, Mills starred alongside her real-life husband, Orson Bean, in the feel-good play Alright Then in California.

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  • AP

    Jane Kaczmarek, ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ (2000-2006)

    For seven years, Kaczmarek entertained us as Lois, the harried, strong-willed mother of a rambunctious bunch of boys: Malcolm, Reese, Francis, Dewey and baby Jamie. Her husband, Hal, was played by Bryan Cranston. Kaczmarek earned seven straight Emmy nominations for the role but never took home the prize. After appearing on various TV shows and on stage through the years, Kaczmarek most recently stars as a mother again, this time in the impactful drama 6 Balloons, which premiered in April on Netflix following a bow at the South by Southwest festival.

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