Pat Loud, ‘American Family’ mother of reality TV, dead at 94

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Pat Loud, the matriarch of the groundbreaking PBS documentary series “American Family,” has died. She was 94.

She made pop culture history when the series premiered in 1973. In short, Loud was the mother of reality TV.

Her family confirmed Loud’s passing Sunday on their official Facebook page.

“With inconsolable sorrow, we are sad to share the news with friends and family that on Sunday January 10 at 1:55pm PT, Pat Loud passed away peacefully in her sleep of natural causes,” the post reads. “She was snuggled up safe in her comfy home, attended by loving children Michele, Delilah, Kevin and Grant.”

“American Family,” created by documentarian Craig Gilbert, shone a sometimes harsh spotlight on the upper-middle class lives, school days and infidelities of Loud, her husband, Bill, and their five children in Santa Barbara, Calif. The then-shocking series infamously featured the on-camera separation and divorce of the Louds, as well as the coming out of their eldest son, Lance, the first openly gay person featured on US television.

The show spawned international headlines — some highly critical of the Louds for airing all their dirty laundry for the general public — and was even parodied by the original cast of “Saturday Night Live.”

Born Patricia Claire Russell on Oct. 4, 1926 in Eugene, Oregon, Loud graduated ffrom Stanford University in 1948 with degrees in World History and English Literature. Upon returning to her hometown, she met and fell in love with Bill Loud.

They married in Mexico City, and first son — Alanson “Lance” Russell Loud — was born in June 1951.

“Four more children, a move to Santa Barbara, and a famously televised divorce later, Pat’s brilliant second act was only getting started,” her family shared in their Facebook memorial. “A flat on New York’s Upper East Side and a new career in the book biz was followed by a relocation to England’s favorite Roman spa town Bath in the 1980s. But wherever she was, an invitation to her table meant an unforgettable evening of great food, generous drinks and convivial company.”

When eldest son Lance, the breakout star of “American Family,” was diagnosed as HIV positive at the height of the AIDS epidemic, she returned to Los Angeles to care for him through the 1990s.

“Loud was a fierce, inflexible, forthright matriarch and loyal champion of outsiders and iconoclasts,” her family posted. “Her door was never locked and there was always room at her table. Never one for regrets or reflection, she moved forward in life with enthusiasm and courage.”

After relocating to New York’s Upper East Side when her marriage imploded on national television, Loud wrote two books: “Pat Loud: A Woman’s Story” in 1974 and “Lance Out Loud” in 2012.

The Emmy-winning “Cinema Verite,” a fictionalized take on the making of “An American Family,” premiered on HBO in 2011 and starred Tim Robbins as Bill, Diane Lane as Pat, Tim Robbins as Bill, Thomas Dekker as Lance and the late James Gandolfini as filmmaker Gilbert.

Lance died from complications due to Hepatitis C in 2001. Bill Loud died in 2018, also of natural causes, after spending the previous 17 years in the house he shared with Pat. (Yes, they eventually reunited.)

She is survived by her children Kevin Robert, Grant Randolph, Delilah Ann and Michele Summers Loud.

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that any donations to be made in her name go to The Rescue Train, an animal welfare organization based in Los Angeles.

“But…you know what she’d really like?,” the family continued in their social media tribute. “Throw something delicious in the oven and let the aroma fill the house. At the stroke of 5 p.m., gather friends and family around a tray of savory treats. Fill a glass with ice and – if you really want to do it right – everyone take one, VERY LARGE vodka. Maybe (definitely) two. Then sit down to dinner at a crowded table. Tell stories, put music on, laugh, and make a lot of noise. Have seconds, clean plates. And love each other.

She’d love that.”

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