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An emotional O’Connor describes his son’s suicide to jurors

July 23, 1997 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ His voice a husky whisper in a silent courtroom, Carroll O’Connor took jurors on a dramatic journey into the darkest moment of his life _ when police told him that his son had committed suicide.

``The thought went through my head: `At last it’s happened _ everything I’ve ever been afraid of,‴ he said.

All parents, he said, worry whether their children will grow up safe from harm. On that afternoon in March 1995, his worst nightmare was realized. Hugh O’Connor, 32, a cocaine addict, shot himself after a phone call ending with the words: ``So long, Pop.″

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``I broke down and cried a lot,″ O’Connor recalled.

And then, on the witness stand Tuesday, he cried again.

Defending himself in a slander suit by the man he blames for his son’s death, the star of TV’s ``All in the Family″ said his son’s suicide made him a crusader against drugs and a touchstone for parents who remembered him as the irascible Archie Bunker.

When he railed at songwriter Harry Perzigian for supplying his son with cocaine, O’Connor said he wanted everyone to know they should not be ashamed of addiction; they should fight it.

``I knew this was going out all over the country,″ he said of his interviews on the day of his son’s death. ``My heart might be breaking, but I was not ashamed.″

The white-haired actor was the final defense witness in the suit filed against him by Perzigian, 41, who is seeking $10 million in damages because O’Connor publicly called him ``a partner in murder.″

Closing arguments were scheduled today before jury deliberations begin.

Before testimony ended, Perzigian and his girlfriend, Samantha Polk, took the stand. Why did Perzigian have a scale similar to ones used by drug dealers? Polk said he liked to weigh his vitamins. Why did he shed his long hair for the trial? ``You guys told me to cut it to show respect for the court,″ he told his lawyer.

And why, his lawyer asked, would he continue to share drugs with a man so strung out he was sniffing the carpets for traces of cocaine?

``I never saw Hugh in that state,″ said Perzigian.

Perzigian was convicted of possessing cocaine and furnishing the drug to Hugh O’Connor but has denied complicity in his death. Perzigian, who was sentenced to a year in jail, has testified that he never dealt in cocaine but only split the cost of recreational supplies with Hugh O’Connor.

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O’Connor said he still blames Perzigian for giving his son drugs and ``invited″ him to sue, doubting he would.

O’Connor’s lawyer, Lucy Inman, asked if it wasn’t moot to attack Perzigian after the suicide.

``No,″ O’Connor said. ``Hugh was gone. But the evil still lingered. It was there and I’d made up my mind I was going to go before the nation and do something about it.″

O’Connor said he didn’t blame other friends who may have aided Hugh O’Connor in obtaining drugs.

``They came to me and apologized and said they were very sorry. All his best friends came to see me except one _ I never saw that best friend that I see in court,″ he said, pointing to Perzigian.