Seattle native Jean Smart was born on September 13, 1951. Attending the University of Washington after high school, she received her BA degree in fine arts. Her first professional season was with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where she performed in “Much Ado About Nothing,” among others. During this time she built up a strong resume in regional theater with such companies as the Hartford Stage Company, Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Alaska Repertory Theatre and Alliance Theatre. Her first significant break came with a starring role in the potent, critically-acclaimed lesbian drama “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove,” which earned her an Off-Broadway Drama Desk nomination in 1980. She capped this honor with a Los Angeles Drama Critics award in 1983 when she repeated her triumph on the West Coast. Jean made an auspicious Broadway debut in 1981 playing Marlene Dietrich in “Piaf”, and it was the subsequent TV taping of that show that brought about Hollywood interest. She struggled for a time in unsuccessful sitcoms (Teachers Only (1982), Reggie (1983) and Maximum Security (1984)) before hitting gold as the feather-brained Charlene Frazier on Designing Women (1986). She met future husband Richard Gilliland on the set of the hit show; he played the recurring role of Annie Potts’ boyfriend for a few seasons. Jean and Richard’s son Connor was born in 1989. Feeling confined and typecast in light material, Jean left the show in 1991 to branch out and drew major acclaim in such made-for-TV movies as Overkill: The Aileen Wuornos Story (1992). She gave a chilling portrayal as the well-known serial killer more than a decade before Charlize Theron copped an Oscar for her cinematic version. On the other side of the coin, Jean offered gentle, heartfelt performances in such TV films as The Yarn Princess (1994), in which she played a mentally disabled mom, and the TV remake of The Yearling (1994), allowing audiences to rediscover her amazing versatility. On stage she earned a Tony nomination for her delightfully madcap part in the Broadway farce “The Man Who Came to Dinner” opposite Nathan Lane, and on TV won bookend Emmy awards for her guest appearances on the sitcom Frasier (1993). Films would never be a reliable venue for Jean, who made her big-screen debut in Flashpoint (1984). She did, however, receive an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her part in Guinevere (1999). Diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 13, Jean has played an active part over the years in public awareness.
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