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An American Family’s Pat Loud has died

An American Family’s Pat Loud has died
The Loud Family, stars of An American Family, the first reality show (Photo by PBS)

Pat Loud, one of the stars of the groundbreaking 1973 documentary reality series An American Family, died Sunday at age 94.

An American Family went on to inspire The Real World, and was the first narrative nonfiction show that followed people in their real lives.

While Pat’s son, Lance Loud, earned considerable media attention for being out and gay—he was television’s first gay character—Pat was responsible for some of the show’s most memorable moments, such as when she visited Lance in New York City, and when she asked her husband, Bill, for a divorce while cameras rolled.

An American Family star Pat Loud, in an undated photo posted to Facebook by her family along with her obituary
An American Family star Pat Loud, in an undated photo posted to Facebook by her family along with her obituary

Two years ago, she said the divorce scene happened because the show’s producer convinced her to do it. In a must-read interview with The Face, Pat said,

“They knew I was going to get a divorce; there was no way I could stay married like this and they just had to have that. Why? I don’t know. I was going to do it and not ever on television, not ever. And Craig [Gilbert] talked me into doing it. As I say, I was naive. I would never do that now. I thought he knew what he was doing and I didn’t know that I did.”

After the show aired, The New York Times wrote that “the series was hailed as a landmark in sociological investigation — Margaret Mead called it the most important advance in human thought since the development of the novel—awhile others rejected it as unrepresentative of the American way of life, heaping scorn on Bill and Pat Loud.”

Why did she agree to be filmed in the first place? Pat told The Face:

“Honey, that is such a loaded question. You have no idea. [Laughs] There are so many answers to that. In the first place, we were only going to do it for two weeks. [Producer Craig Gilbert] was going to do [a family on] the West Coast, somewhere in the middle and then East Coast. There were going to be three or four different families. Then he decided to do it all on us. I don’t know why.

I had many reasons I wanted to do it for that short period of time. Mainly, I was very proud of my children and Grant was such an outstanding gifted singer and guitar player. I thought that would be good for him. And I was having marital problems. I thought, maybe somebody ought to take a good look at this big family. I was very naive. Very naive.”

Also in that interview, Pat said she’d never seen Keeping Up with the Kardashians but is envious of current reality stars: “The first thought I had would be jealousy that they made money off their life and I did not.

The Face reminded her that shed once told an interviewer who asked her about doing another TV show, and she replied, “Honey, I’m a whore. I’d ask how much.” Pat said she still felt that way: “I guess. You know, I’m starting to outlive my savings so I wouldn’t mind earning a little money…”

In a note posted to Facebook, The Loud Family announced that Pat “passed away peacefully in her sleep of natural causes” on Sunday afternoon, “attended by loving children Michele, Delilah, Kevin and Grant.” She was preceded in death by her ex-husband, Bill, who shared a house with her later in their lives, and Lance, who died in 2001.

The family’s obituary said this:

Pat Loud was a fierce, inflexible, forthright matriarch and loyal champion of outsiders and iconoclasts. 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. A letter from her often closed simply, “Excelsior!”

It also said that “Bill and Pat were both unique, vibrant, creative, and independent people. Anyone who knew them understands that Lance did not just magically appear out of nowhere.”

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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