Hugh Edward Ralph O'Connor
April 7, 1962
|Died||March 28, 1995 (aged 32)|
Hugh Edward Ralph O'Connor (April 7, 1962 – March 28, 1995) was an American actor known for his role as James Flynn in the 1984 film Brass and his portrayal of Lonnie Jamison on In the Heat of the Night until his death in 1995. He was the adopted son of American actor Carroll O'Connor.
Hugh was born in Rome, Italy. When he was six days old, he was adopted by Carroll and his wife, Nancy (née Fields). Carroll was in Rome filming Cleopatra. He was named after Carroll's younger 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 ultimately became addicted to drugs. He had been taking prescription drugs for the pain but later became dependent on harder drugs. Despite numerous stays at rehabilitation clinics, he never conquered his addiction and remained in recovery.
On March 28, 1995, the third anniversary of his marriage, Hugh called his father to tell him he was going to end his life. He said he believed he could not beat his drug addiction 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.
Hugh's body was cremated, and his ashes were originally buried at the Church of St. Susanna in Rome, Italy. Later, they 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.
Six months before Hugh's death, Angela told Carroll that a man named Harry Thomas Perzigian had been furnishing Hugh with drugs. Carroll had retained a private detective to investigate. About a week before Hugh's death, Carroll called Perzigian to warn him to stop providing cocaine to his son, and brought the evidence to the Los Angeles Police Department, asking them to arrest Perzigian.
Several hours after Hugh's death, Carroll publicly named Perzigian as the man who caused his 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 following a bench trial.
Perzigian later sued Carroll for $10 million for slander after Carroll called Perzigian a "sleazeball" and said "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 was found not liable. He dedicated much of the rest of his life to speaking out on drug awareness.
Drug Dealer Liability Act
After Hugh's death, Carroll 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 Liability Act, 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's support, and it is now the law in sixteen states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 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
- Langie, Carolene (1995-03-30). "Police Arrest Man Identified as Hugh O'Connor's Drug Dealer". AP NEWS. Retrieved 2021-04-09.
- "Trial Ends, But Not Tragedy, For Actor Carroll O'Connor". AP NEWS. 1996-02-17. Retrieved 2021-04-09.
- Waxman, Sharon (1997-07-23). "SLANDER SUIT LETS ACTOR HAVE HIS SAY". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-04-09.
- "Carroll O'Connor's Son Kills Himself at 33". The New York Times. March 30, 1995. Retrieved May 23, 2009.
- "Friends of Actor Open Drug Trial". Los Angeles Times. 1996-01-11. Retrieved 2021-04-09.
- "Convicted Drug Supplier to Actor's Son Is Attacked". Los Angeles Times. 1997-08-06. Retrieved 2021-04-09.
- "2005 California Health and Safety Code Sections 11700-11717 :: DIVISION 10.2. :: DRUG DEALER LIABILITY ACT". Justia Law. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
- "Overview of the Model Drug Dealer Liability Act". Internet Archive. Archived from the original on 2019-09-27. Retrieved 10 November 2022.