"The Conners" Producer Discusses Roseanne's Overdose Death

By David Konow 10/23/18

"We could’ve gone down other avenues, but we felt it was the right thing for the character. As you know, it’s a crisis in this country.”

Roseanne Barr and Laurie Metcalf in a scene from "Roseanne"
Photo via YouTube

The return of Roseanne was one of the biggest comeback stories of the year—until Roseanne Barr got fired for posting inflammatory tweets this May.

The show has since been rebooted without her as The Conners, and as rumored, her character dies of an opioid overdose.

Before Barr was fired, her character was keeping “secret bottles” of Vicodin stashed in her home because the family couldn’t afford an operation and she was trying to deal with chronic pain in her knee.

Like many who suffer from chronic pain, Roseanne Conner got her meds illegally, buying them through her neighbor Marcy (played by Mary Steenburgen).

Through Steenburgen, Dan Conner (John Goodman) realizes that many in the neighborhood are getting their meds this way.

“We thought we’d include issues such as a lack of proper healthcare and the prohibitive costs of medications that many face," said executive producer Tom Werner to Forbes. "I think the conversation between Marcy and Dan made the story quite affecting because, obviously it was an accident, but an accident that seems to be happening frequently. Their conversation became part of a larger issue of people in a community passing along drugs either not being prescribed them by a doctor, or drugs being too expensive and unaffordable. This is part of a bigger issue in this country.”

In making the decision to kill off Roseanne, Werner added, “Obviously, it is important for us to do the show respectfully. We could’ve gone down other avenues, but we felt it was the right thing for the character. As you know, it’s a crisis in this country.”

Bruce Helford, who is the showrunner of The Conners, told The Hollywood Reporter, “There was a lot of chatter in the ether about how we should explain Roseanne’s absence: Should she have a heart attack, a mental breakdown or go off into the sunset on a boat with her son? But we firmly decided against anything cowardly or far-fetched, anything that would make the fierce matriarch of the Conners seem pathetic or debased.

“I wanted a respectful sendoff for her,” Helford continued. “One that was relevant and could inspire discussion for the greater good about the American working class, whose authentic problems are often ignored by broadcast television.” 

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.