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April 7, 1962|
|Died||March 28, 1995
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Angela Clayton (m.1992-1995; his death)|
Hugh Edward Ralph O'Connor (April 7, 1962 – March 28, 1995) was an American actor and the son of actor Carroll O'Connor known for his role as James Flynn in the 1984 film, Brass, and his portrayal as Lonnie Jamison on In the Heat of the Night until his death in 1995.
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Hugh O'Connor was born in Rome, Italy. When he was six days old, he was adopted by Carroll O'Connor and his wife Nancy. Carroll was in Rome filming Cleopatra. He was named after Carroll O'Connor's brother, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1961.
When he was 16, Hugh was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. He survived the cancer with chemotherapy and two surgeries but became addicted to drugs. He had been taking prescription drugs for the pain and marijuana for nausea but later became dependent on harder drugs. Despite numerous stays at rehabilitation clinics, he never conquered his addiction and remained in recovery.
He was married to Angela Clayton, a wardrobe assistant on In the Heat of the Night, on March 28, 1992; their son, Sean Carroll O'Connor, was born in 1993.
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Six months before Hugh's death, Angela told Carroll O'Connor that a man named Harry Thomas Perzigian had been furnishing the younger O'Connor with drugs. Carroll had retained a private detective to investigate. About a week before Hugh's death his father brought the evidence to the Los Angeles Police, asking them to arrest Perzigian.
Several hours after Hugh's death, his father publicly named Perzigian as the man who caused Hugh O'Connor's death. Perzigian was arrested the next day for drug possession and furnishing cocaine after a search of his apartment turned up cocaine and drug paraphernalia. In January 1996, he was sentenced to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine, 200 hours of community service, and three years of probation.
Perzigian later sued Carroll O'Connor for slander for calling him a "sleazeball" and saying "he was a partner in murder, not an accessory, a partner in murder" in an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC's Primetime Live. After a highly publicized civil trial, Carroll O'Connor was found not liable. He dedicated much of the rest of his life to speaking out on drug awareness.
On March 28, 1995, the third anniversary of his marriage, O'Connor called his father to tell him he was going to end his life. He told his father he believed he could not beat the drugs and could not face another drug rehabilitation program. Carroll called the police, who arrived at Hugh's Pacific Palisades, California home just as he shot himself. The police later determined he had cocaine in his blood.
O'Connor's body was cremated and the ashes were originally buried at the Church of St. Susanna in Rome, Italy. Later, his ashes were moved to the mausoleum of the Pontifical North American College in Campo Verano, Rome, Italy. Today, he has a cenotaph at the Church of St. Susanna and at his father's grave site in Los Angeles.
The Hugh O'Connor Memorial Law
After Hugh's death, his father successfully lobbied to get the state of California to pass legislation that allows family members of an addicted person or anyone injured by a drug dealer's actions, including employers, to sue for reimbursement for medical treatment and rehabilitation costs. The law, known as the Drug Dealer Civil Liability Act in California, went into effect in 1997. It is an updated version of the Model Drug Dealer Liability Act authored in 1992 by then Hawaii U.S. Attorney Daniel Bent. It had been passed in several states before it was passed in California with Carroll O'Connor's support, and is now the law in seventeen states. Several cases under the Act are pending in California and at least one other state. Successful cases have been brought under the Model Drug Dealer Liability Act in Michigan, Utah, and Illinois.
- 1984: Brass – as James Flynn
- 1988–1994: In the Heat of the Night – as Officer, Sergeant, and Det./Lt. Lonnie Jamison
- "Carroll O'Connor's Son Kills Himself at 33". The New York Times. March 30, 1995. Retrieved May 23, 2009.