For Barbara Eden, the news that her television pilot I Dream of Jeannie was going to premiere in the fall of 1965 happened simultaneously with her pregnancy with her son, Matthew Ansara. The iconic actress was told by her doctor that, after seven years of trying, she and then-husband Michael Ansara were going to have a baby.
The former couple — who wed in 1958 — became the parents of their beloved child on August 29, 1965. “We called him our lucky-charm baby,” Barbara wrote in her 2011 autobiography Jeannie Out of the Bottle. “Our joy was boundless. We had a child at last, and we loved him more than words could say.”
Upon welcoming Matthew into their lives, motherhood became Barbara’s first priority. Though she juggled her legendary career and raising her son, the Harper Valley PTA alum was willing to choose her child over anything else. In fact, Barbara remembered almost giving up the lead role on I Dream of Jeannie because of the timing of her pregnancy and the pilot’s premiere.
However, when the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea actress approached show creator Sidney Sheldon to let him know he should probably replace her, she was surprised to hear his response. In her book, she recalled how he offered her congratulations and told her that she would be able to remain as the star of the series.
“Sidney came up with an almost foolproof technique for disguising my pregnancy by draping me with a multitude of veils and instructing that I be shot only from the waist up, or from a distance,” Barbara penned. “Consequently, I worked on I Dream of Jeannie right up until the eighth month of my pregnancy, and filmed eleven episodes of the show during that time.”
Upon the conclusion of the hit sitcom in 1970, Barbara picked up other showbiz work while continuing to be the best mom to Matthew. Her marriage with Michael suffered, however, and the two divorced after 16 years together in 1974. From there, the Golden Globe nominee focused on being a single mother to her child. She tragically lost her second child with Michael a year after I Dream of Jeannie wrapped, miscarrying in her third trimester.
“I carried my second son for almost eight months [in 1971] before the doctors told me he had died in the womb,” she told People in October 2021. “It was awful. I became numb. You just deal with everything every day. I went right back to work and lost a lot of weight.”
“I’d come home and look at my little boy who’s adorable and think, ‘I’m so lucky. I have this sweet child. I have a husband who loves me. What’s wrong with me?'” she explained. “And nobody told me what was wrong with me. At that time going to a psychiatrist, people didn’t do it. You just healed yourself. Now you go get help when you feel that bad. When you can’t move or don’t want to do anything, go and get help.”
Tragically, Matthew struggled with addiction for many years of his life, and on June 26, 2001, he died at age 35 from a drug overdose. “Our joy was boundless, and our hopes that he would live a healthy and happy life were unlimited,” Barbara wrote. “Matthew meant everything to both of us, and always would.”
The TV star’s heartwarming sentiment echoes to this day, despite it being more than 20 years since Matthew’s devastating death. To honor her son’s memory, Barbara said she makes sure not to “pretend like he never was.”
“It’s a killer. I have his pictures around. He was such a beautiful young man,” the actress exclusively told Closer in August 2021. “The only way I can honor him is to talk about him. Don’t pretend like he never was. Because he was he was [a] super, super human being.”
To learn more about Matthew, as well as see a complete glimpse inside Barbara’s life as a mom, scroll through the gallery below.
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