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Lani O'Grady, 46; Actress Played Daughter on TV's 'Eight Is Enough'

September 27, 2001|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lani O'Grady, who played Mary, the strong, self-confident eldest daughter on the television series "Eight Is Enough," has died. She was 46.

O'Grady, a talent agent, was found dead in her Valencia mobile home Tuesday. Authorities say O'Grady apparently died of natural causes. The coroner's office said a post-mortem examination is pending.

Born in Walnut Grove, O'Grady was the daughter of Mary Grady, one of Hollywood's top children's agents. Her brother was Don Grady, one of the original Mousketeers and a co-star of the 1960s TV comedy "My Three Sons."

It was while visiting her brother on the "My Three Sons" set when she was 6 that O'Grady began thinking of following in his footsteps.

In a 1994 interview with The Times, O'Grady recalled that when the show's star, Fred MacMurray, heard her naturally low voice, he turned around and said, "Who said that?"

She looked up at the towering MacMurray and said, "I did, sir." MacMurray responded by saying, "Boy, you ought to be in the business."

Aware of the emotional toll on child actors, Mary Grady never pushed her daughter into acting. But when Lani was 13, her mother finally gave in to her persistent requests to be sent on an audition.

After reading a two-line bit for "High Chaparral," she won the lead role in the episode. O'Grady never looked back, working constantly as a teenager.

Born Lanita Rose Agrati, she changed her name to Lani O'Grady after landing her role in "Eight Is Enough," a comedy-drama that starred Dick Van Patten as the newspaper columnist father of eight children. The series ran from 1977 to 1981.

In a 1994 Times interview, O'Grady said she had long suffered from severe panic attacks, which led to her abusing prescription drugs and alcohol for more than a decade.

Although fans were never aware of it, O'Grady said, the attacks caused her to frequently run to her dressing room to pop a Valium. She said she once shook so much during a scene that she had to be driven home.

Although she began experiencing panic attacks at 18, O'Grady said, she was not diagnosed with panic disorder until she was 21. Over the years, she said, she saw 32 doctors, most of whom prescribed various tranquilizers.

After the series ended, O'Grady said, she was in and out of five rehabilitation clinics.

The lowest point in her long struggle with panic attacks, she said, came in 1993, when agoraphobia kept her at home, and her body was so filled with toxins from abusing prescription drugs and alcohol that she was experiencing memory blackouts.

But in 1994, she began being treated with a nonnarcotic medication for what was diagnosed as a brain chemical imbalance.

The treatment, she said at the time, made all the difference in the world.

"I have a life today," she said.

In December 1998, however, O'Grady checked herself into the Thalians Mental Health Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to detoxify from a prescription drug.

Although many child stars bitterly complain about the drawbacks of growing up in show business, O'Grady was not one of them.

"I have a real hard time with people who have been successful in this business as young children . . . and [as adults] they are no longer wanted by Hollywood--and, yeah, Hollywood is not a user-friendly place," she said in 1994.

"But rather than accepting responsibility for their life, it's easier to say, 'The business is the reason I'm so messed up today.' I hate that."

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