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Meredith Baxter of ‘Family Ties’ Took the Long Road, But Came Out on Top

Read about the ups and downs of her life and career here!

Meredith Baxter is a beloved star and endearing force in Hollywood, who made her mark in memorable roles over a five-decade career. Her first recognizable part came in the sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie in 1972, where she co-starred with future husband David Birney as Catholic teacher Bridget Fitzgerald.

The main premise of the sitcom was an interfaith marriage between the Catholic Bridget and Jewish taxi driver, Bernie Steinberg. Its subject matter led to controversy, which, along with organized protests, led to the series’ cancellation with only 24 episodes broadcast.

David Birney and Meredith Baxter, 1981
David Birney and Meredith Baxter, 1981Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images

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The life of Meredith Baxter

Born in Pasadena, California she recalls her mother, actress Whitney Blake, only wanted to be a famous Hollywood star and that her three children were obstacles thrown in her way. She remembers that her mother made her call her by her stage name as opposed to “mom.”

Meredith nonetheless aspired to have an acting career of her own and had guest star roles in popular series such as The Doris Day Show and The Partridge Family.

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The actress in 1980
Meredith Baxter, 1980Columbia TriStar/Courtesy of Getty Images

In her private life, her breakout role on Bridget Loves Bernie opposite her future husband began an abusive relationship off screen after the two married. Wed for 15 years, she says in her memoir Untied, that her husband abused her both physically and emotionally, but she chose to keep it hidden from everyone around her.

Birney, who passed away in 2022, had always denied the abuse. For her part, she turned to alcohol to cope with the abuse, but has been sober since 1990.

Meredith Baxter and David Birney, 1982
Meredith Baxter and David Birney, 1982Maureen Donaldson/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In 1976, she was the oldest daughter on Family, playing the role of Nancy Maitland. For her performance, Meredith received two Emmy Award nominations. At that time, the actress was billed as Meredith Baxter Birney, though she drop her ex-husband’s last name. She then ventured into the then-new premium TV channel HBO in Vanities (1981), about the lives, loves and friendship of three Texas cheerleaders.

Her biggest claim to fame — which stands to this day — is the iconic sitcom Family Ties. As Elyse Keaton, the former flower child, architect and matriarch of the Keaton family, Meredith brought laughs to the screen each week, while struggling with her private secrets.

MUST-READ: ‘Family Ties’ Cast Then and Now — You Won’t Believe How Much They’ve Changed!

Meredith Baxter, Michael Gross, Justine Bateman, Michael J. Fox and Tina Yothers
Meredith Baxter, Michael Gross, Justine Bateman, Michael J. Fox and Tina YothersPictorial Parade/Getty Images

During her Family Ties run, Meredith also headlined the TV film Kate’s Secret. The dramatic performance about a seemingly perfect suburban housewife and mother who secretly suffered from bulimia earned her critical acclaim.

When Family Ties went off the air, Baxter produced and starred in televisions films such as The Kissing Place (1990) and A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story (1992), based on the true story of the woman convicted of murdering her ex-husband and his new wife.

In 1997, she once again played the mother of a character played by Michael J. Fox, who portrayed her son Alex on Family Ties, in two episodes of Fox’s hit sitcom, Spin City.

The actress in 2014
Meredith Baxter, 2014Mike Windle/WireImage/Getty Images

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Guest appearances followed and in 2014 she briefly joined the daytime drama The Young and the Restless. This was her first recurring TV role after playing the recurring character Ellen Rush, alcoholic mother of main character Lilly Rush on Cold Case.

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The actress shines as her true self

A pivotal time in her life was when she made an appearance on The Today Show and told Matt Lauer she was a lesbian. Married three times prior, she said that accepting her sexual orientation helped her understand why, in part, previous relationships with men failed. In 2013, Meredith married general building contractor Nancy Locke.

Meredith Baxter and Nancy Locke, 2012
Meredith Baxter and Nancy Locke, 2012Beck Starr/Getty Images

At 74, Meredith’s career has slowed down, but she has not retired from doing what she’s loved for so long.

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