When most people think of Katey Sagal, they associate her most popularly with three characters she has played. First and foremost, Peg Bundy, from the popular TV sitcom, Married With Children. Who could forget Al Bundy’s oversexed, cigarette smoking, bouffant wearing, bon bon eating, crazy wife? Some people also think of her character, Leela, on the animated, short-lived series by Matt Groening, Futurama. Most recently, she is associated with her newest and I think her most controversial character so far, Gemma Teller, on the FX series, Sons of Anarchy. No matter which character you think of first, she has captivated the music, television and film industries for years, and I really enjoyed doing my research on her! She is a person who has so many wonderful and deep facets to her personality and her life, and it was really great to learn more about her.
Her Early Years
Katey Sagal was born Catherine Louise Sagal, on January 19th, 1954 to Boris Sagal, a noted TV and film director, and Sarah Zwilling, a director and singer, in Los Angeles, California. Katey grew up in a large family, being one of five children. Three of her siblings also became actors. She was bitten by the “showbiz bug” at the early age of five, studying voice and acting at the California Institute of Arts in Valencia, California.
Early Adulthood and Career
Katey’s early adulthood was such a mix of heartbreak and win. While she met with success as a singer, she lost both of her parents far too soon. Her mother, Sarah, died of heart disease (date unknown), and her father, Boris died on the set while filming the television movie, World War III in 1981.
While working as a waitress, Katey started performing with the band, The Group With No Name, and caught a break when she met Gene Simmons of Kiss in 1978. He asked her to sing background vocals on his self-titled solo album. She was then hired in 1979 by Bette Midler for a tour to sing back up vocals as one of “The Harlettes.”
Katey quickly gained valuable experience as well as a name for herself as a backup recording singer, working with established musicians such as Tanya Tucker, Olivia Newton-John and the great Etta James. It is very clear that music was and is a first love and a passion for her.
During the time of 1978-1981, Katey was married to bass player Freddie Beckmeyer. This would be the first of three marriages.
Sagal was discovered in 1985 while performing in an onstage musical and was cast opposite Mary Tyler Moore in a TV series called Mary. It was not long before she was spotted and cast as the colorful character, “Peg Bundy,” in Married With Children. Katey showed up for her audition wearing the big bouffant wig as a way to convey how she saw Peg. It worked fantastically and the producers loved the look and transitioned it into the show. It quickly became one of Peg… and Katey’s signature trademarks. Everyone who knew who Peg Bundy was thought first of the big red hair. Although the character was essentially very shallow, and selfish, there was always something about Sagal that made you root for Peg. She was my favorite character on the show, so maybe I’m a bit biased, lol!
In 1991, Katey discovered that she was pregnant. This was an unexpected development, so the producers decided to write her pregnancy into the show. Unfortunately, she had to have an emergency C-section in her seventh month of pregnancy, resulting in the stillbirth of her daughter, Ruby Alexandra. It was devastating to Katey, and the producers once again did some quick thinking and wrote it out of the show, regarding it as a “dream.” In 1993, Sagal married her second husband, Jack White, an actor and hockey technical advisor. They had a daughter, Sarah Grace in 1994, and a son, Jackson James in 1996. Their marriage ended in 2000.
In 1994, Katey, never to stay away from music for long, released her first solo album, Well…..
In 1997, Married With Children had run its course and the show ended its eleven year run.
After Married With Children, Katey contributed to the children’s cartoon, Recess, and worked on several television films. In 1999, she guest starred in That 70’s Show as “Steven Hyde’s” mother, and was offered the role of “Turanga Leela” in Matt Groening’s science fiction animated TV series, Futurama. Although it only aired for a brief time, Futurama gained quite a cult type following and the few episodes are still broadcasting on such channels as Comedy Central and Adult Swim. The increasing popularity of the show led Comedy Central to commission a series of direct-to-DVD films, and Katey reprised her role as “Leela.” The episodes were released in June 2010.
In 2002, Katey was cast as John Ritter’s wife in the TV sitcom 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter. In this television show, she was essentially playing the opposite of “Peg Bundy,” which showed us the sort of acting range she has. She could have very well ended up typecast in roles like “Peg” for the majority of her career, however Sagal has shown us that is NOT going to happen, which is fantastic! Tragedy struck the show in 2003 when Ritter died suddenly. Katey, always a trooper, bravely moved forward as the single head of the household in the show, carrying on despite the loss of a treasured friend and co-worker. She garnered rave reviews and the show lasted until 2005.
In 2004, Katey married writer/producer, Kurt Sutter in a private ceremony at their home in Los Feliz, California. She also released her second solo album, Room.
From 2005-2007, Sagal had several guest appearance roles on TV shows such as Lost, The Ghost Whisperer, and The Shield.
In 2007, Kurt and Katey had a daughter, Esme Louise, who was carried by a surrogate for health and safety reasons.
Later Life and Career, Present Day
The year 2008 marked the beginning of something special for both Katey and her husband, Kurt. Kurt created the hit FX TV series, Sons of Anarchy, writing the role of “Gemma Teller,” especially for Sagal. The series is based on the lifestyle of the outlaw motorcycle clubs in California. While the show centers around the motorcycle club’s Vice President, “Jax Teller,” Katey once again captures the audience with her wide range of acting abilities. “Gemma” would not be anything without Sagal playing her… that’s just my humble opinion. I know, it’s easy to say since the role was written especially FOR her, however, I truly can’t see anyone playing this Machiavellian, scheming, hard core “Mama Bear” other than her. She gives a vulnerability to “Gemma” that you really can’t believe you are seeing. On the one hand, she’s bashing young girls in the face with a skateboard, on the other, she is a fiercely loving and devoted mother and grandmother.
It appears I am not the only one who feels Katey Sagal has done amazing work in her role in SoA. This year, she won her very first Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama. I was rooting for her and was so excited when she won…. not to mention she looked DAZZLING in her burnt orange gown. I don’t think she really expected to win… I follow Mr. Sutter on his Twitter, and I KNOW he didn’t expect her to be recognized for her immense talent. I’m so glad we were all pleasantly surprised!
At present, Katey is going into her fourth season of SoA, and still working on her music. The producers of SoA have included quite a few songs that are sung by Sagal in the episodes and I LOVE it. It’s a really fantastic touch to an already phenomenal show.
Sagal is one of my most favorite actresses and she is someone I truly admire and am in awe of. She is one hell of a strong woman, has an incredible acting and singing range, has an unfailing work ethic and from what I can find in all of my research, she is an all around amazing person to know. Would that I could be so lucky!
My Favorite Katey Sagal Quotes:
“And I like to interpret music. So I think it’s all interpretive.”
“Each time I seem to go through one of life’s huge things, I want to play music.”
“I think we respond well when we do something well.”
(Image from justjared.buzznet.com)