It’s been 20 years since legendary actress Barbara Eden‘s beloved son, Matthew Ansara, died at age 35 in June 2001, but she still remembers her late child as the “beautiful young man” he was. Speaking exclusively with Closer, the I Dream of Jeannie star reveals how she continues to honor Matthew’s memory.
“You’re gonna make me cry … I have his pictures around,” the 90-year-old actress emotionally shares in a new interview, adding she keeps his spirit alive by talking about him. “[I] don’t pretend like he never was. Because he was he was [a] super, super human being.”
The Harper Valley PTA alum’s only child tragically died from a heroin overdose after years of struggles with addiction. “For a long time” after Matthew’s death, Barbara remembers trying to heal the pain by turning it into purpose. “I would go out and talk to parents about drugs, and the use of them and what to do … because I think a lot of people, we were totally ignorant, we had no idea what was going on,” she says.
During that period, she reflected on her role as a mom and wondered if she could have done more. Because she was taught “to honor [her] mother’s privacy” as a child, Barbara found herself being a more relaxed parent when she was raising Matthew.
“[My mom] didn’t go into my drawers. I didn’t go into hers, and all that kind of thing,” the Golden Globe winner states, saying she wishes she had done some things differently with her own kid. “You open those drawers. You know what they’re doing every minute. I thought I did. But I didn’t know. And I think if we had known sooner, we could have dealt with it. We didn’t know until he was in college.”
Though Barbara remembers learning about Matthew’s struggles when he was in school, unfortunately, “there’s nothing you can do after they’re 18,” she explains. “You can’t force them to go to rehab … you can’t do anything. And when he really wanted to be well and clear and clean, he had a heck of a time.”
As a mom who lost a child to drug addiction, Barbara knows her son “tried” just as hard as she did. “All you can do is help them,” the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea actress shares.
The I Still Dream of Jeannie star became the mom of Matthew with her first husband, Michael Ansara. The former couple wed in 1958 and welcomed their son seven years later in August 1965. Barbara and the late actor parted ways nearly a decade later in 1974.