Actor Carroll O'Connor Successfully Defends Slander Suit Brought by Cocaine Distributor of His Late Son
Actor Carroll O'Connor recently won a lawsuit brought against him by the man convicted of furnishing cocaine to his son Hugh O'Connor shortly before his suicide in 1995. Harry Perzigian sued O'Connor for $10 million for slander and emotional distress following negative remarks made by the actor about Perzigian on "Geraldo Live." On that program, O'Connor called Perzigian "a partner in murder" for providing drugs to his addicted son, a claim Perzigian disputed (Sharon Waxman, "Slander Suit Lets Actor Have His Say," Washington Post, July 23, 1997, p. C1; Linda Deutsch, "Plaintiff on trial," Philadelphia Daily News, July 23, 1997, p. 3;
Perzigian, a longtime friend of Hugh O'Connor, said that he did share cocaine with Hugh, but never sold it to him. Carroll O'Connor testified that he called Perzigian a week before the suicide and told him to stop giving his son cocaine. "Don't send my son any more drugs or I'm coming after you," O'Connor said he warned. O'Connor's lawyer, Lucy Inman, said that the case was about "a parent fighting a desperate battle to keep a child off drugs" (Associated Press, "Man Suing Carroll O'Connor Admits Cocaine Party After Death of Actor's Son," New Jersey Herald and News, July 17, 1997, p. A2).
O'Connor fought hard to make the national anti-drug effort the focus of the trial. The actor has become heavily involved in lobbying for laws against drug dealers. Florida recently passed the Hugh O'Connor Memorial Act, giving individuals and the state the right to sue drug dealers for damages (Joe Mozingo and Ann O'Neill, "O'Connor's Lawyer Urges Jurors to Send an Anti-Drug Message," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), July 27, 1997, p. B3).
Jurors in the slander trial cleared O'Connor of the charges and said that they agreed with him. "Whether you are giving or selling someone something that can kill them, you are a partner in murder," said a 30-year-old female juror. O'Connor responded to the verdict by commending the jurors. "You did a great job," he said. "It cost me a bundle, but I was willing to spend the dough. I knew a jury wasn't going to say I was wrong. I'm very, very grateful ... I love you all" (Linda Deutsch, "Jurors: O'Connor's anger wasn't slander," Philadelphia Inquirer, July 26, 1997, p. A2).