David Birney, who starred on the first season of the buzzy medical drama “St. Elsewhere,” as well as the short-lived but controversial sitcom “Bridget Loves Bernie,” about a Catholic woman marrying a Jewish man, has died at 83. His life partner Michele Roberge confirmed the news to the New York Times, and said he died due to Alzheimer’s disease at his home in Santa Monica.
Birney’s nearly-40 year television career began with a part in the 1969 series “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” all the way through to a guest appearance in “Without a Trace” in 2007. Along the way, he had roles and recurring spots on many classic TV shows, including “Murder, She Wrote,” “The Love Boat” and “Hawaii Five-O.”
Yet his best-know parts were Dr. Ben Samuels on the first season of the 1982 drama “St. Elsewhere,” which he had to leave because of a Broadway commitment, and a lead role on the 1972 sitcom “Bridget Loves Bernie.” The interfaith sitcom was met with big ratings, but also criticism from Jewish groups due to accusations of stereotypes.
The sitcom also introduced Birney to his co-star Meredith Baxter, to whom he was married from 1974 until 1989.
Birney was also active in the theater community for most of his life, including a 1969 Broadway debut in “The Miser” and a role in the 1971 Broadway production of “The Playboy of the Western World.” Throughout his career, he had numerous roles in theatrical productions all across the United States, from Chester, Massachusetts to Santa Maria, California.
He is survived by his daughters, Kate and Mollie Birney, and a son, Peter Baxter; a stepdaughter, Eva Bush, and a stepson, Ted Bush; two grandchildren; and his brothers, Gregory and Glenn.
Watch a vintage episode of “Bridget Loves Bernie” below:
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