David Birney of ‘Bridget Loves Bernie’ Dies @ 83

David Birney, the prolific stage and TV actor best remembered as the star of the progressive sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie in the '70s, died April 29 at 83 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Power couple in the '80s (Image via TV Guide)

Birney was born April 23, 1939, in Washington, D.C., growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. He gave up a Stanford Law scholarship in pursuit of a theater arts degree, eventually earning a master's.

After performing for military personnel around the U.S., Birney took to the stage in 1965, where he won the Barter Theater Award. It was the beginning of a long career on the boards.

He debuted on Broadway in 1967 in The Miser. Other shows included The Playboy of the Western World (1971), Amadeus (1981; replacing Ian McKellen), numerous Shakespeare plays, My Fair Lady (1981) and many more.

Throughout much of his stage career, he directed and appeared in his adaptation of Mark Twain's The Diaries of Adam and Eve.

On TV, Birney got his start in 1967 in the made-for-TV film Saint Joan, from the George Bernard Shaw play. He was on the soaps The Edge of Night (1967) and Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1969-1970), and he guested on the shows A World Apart (1970), The F.B.I. (1971) and Circle of Fear (1972) before booking Bridget Loves Bernie.

The sitcom, which premiered in 1972, starred Birney as a Jewish cabbie who aspired to be a playwright and his young Irish Catholic wife, played by Meredith Baxter. A Top 5 series, it was nevertheless canceled by CBS after one season strictly because of some unfavorable viewer reaction to what was at the time considered a mixed marriage.

It was reportedly the highest-rated series ever canceled.

Birney and Baxter were married in real life from 1974-1989. She accused him of abuse in her 2011 memoir; he denied the allegations vociferously.

Birney made dozens of other TV appearances, including on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1973), McMillan & Wife (1975) and The Streets of San Francisco (1976) before playing the title character on the TV version of Serpico (1976-1977).

Often in miniseries, he was rarely in features, but did appear in Caravan to Vaccares (1974), A Dirty Knight's Work (1976), Oh, God! Book II (1980) and a few others, and continued making guest appearances on popular series like The Love Boat (1978 & 1982) and Fantasy Island (1978).

From 1982-1983, he enjoyed a series-regular role on the hit St. Elsewhere, but left for a Broadway commitment.

Birney was active on TV through the '90s, making his final film appearance in 2000's The Comedy of Errors. His last TV role was a guest spot on Without a Trace (2007), though he recorded many audiobooks.

In 2017, it was announced Birney was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Birney is survived by his partner, Michele Roberge, his three children with Baxter, two stepchildren, two grandchildren and two brothers.

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