Mike Farrell Wept after Split Wanted His Marriage Back — At 45, He Found New Love Who Accepted His Kids as Her Own
Mike Farrell Wept after Split Wanted His Marriage Back — At 45, He Found New Love Who Accepted His Kids as Her Own
When Mike Farrell divorced his wife and former co-star Judy Farrell, he cried, refusing to accept what happened and worried about their two children. Then he found new love in Shelley Fabares, who accepted his children as her own. Armed with the support of his ex-wife, Mike, along with Fabares, raised the children together.
Television star Mike Farrell became famous for his role as Captain B.J. Hunnicutt on the classic show “M*A*S*H,” which aired from 1972 to 1983.
On the comedy series, Mike starred alongside his now ex-wife, Judy Farrell (nee Hayden), who played Nurse Able. She appeared on eight episodes of the TV show.
Actor Mike Farrell pictured at home with his wife, actress Judy Farrell | Source: Getty Images
Off-screen, the pair were real husband and wife after marrying in 1963. They welcomed two kids, daughter Erin the same year they wed and son Michael in 1970.
Mike’s Hollywood career got off to a rough start, but the opportunity to replace Wayne Rogers on “M*A*S*H” put him on the map. The veteran star admitted he was as nervous as a kid on a first date during his audition. He could barely remember what happened because he was anxious.
Moreover, Mike gushed about how everyone had warmed up to his then-wife Judy in the series. “They had come to love Judy,” he wrote in his book, “Just Call Me Mike.”
From (L-R): Loretta Swit, Mike Farrell, David Ogden Stiers, Jamie Farr, Harry Morgan, Alan Alda, William Christopher, and Judy Farrell pictured at the Malibu Creek State Park at Fox Ranch on June 18, 1984 in California | Source: Getty Images
After 20 years of marriage, Mike and Judy filed for divorce – the same year “M*A*S*H” ended. In his biography, Mike openly discussed their separation and stated although they had been doting parents to their brood, things had drastically changed.
Back then, they were both based in Laguna full-time where he was running a business while juggling his acting career in Hollywood. Mike revealed he was torn between the two and ultimately gave up the company to focus solely on acting, which strained his marriage.
Consequently, he and Judy drifted apart as a married couple. Following some self-introspection, they considered divorce and were “acutely aware” of how it would affect their children.
Even though they attempted to pretend that all was well despite the circumstances, the experience was “painful” regardless. For Mike, breaking the news to the kids was the most challenging part. He admitted he went about it the “wrong” way, but that there was no better way to tell them, adding:
“The whole process was a wrenching, deeply painful ordeal for all involved, but Judy and I were able to work out a cooperative arrangement.”
Shelly Fabares, Mike Farrell, and daughter Erin Farrell attend the “ABC Fall Premiere Party” at UCLA on September 12, 1990. | Source: Getty Images
The father of two bought a house in the same neighborhood as their family home, and he and Judy agreed on shared custody. Mike explained there was no “right” or “wrong” person in their case and that there was no third party involved either, adding:
“There was just a harsh reality that had to be faced. It was awful. Sure, as I was that the decision was right, I waffled constantly, fearing that anything that inflicted so much pain on the kids had to be a stupid mistake.”
Mike expressed devastation over his marriage ending because when it hit rock bottom, he also “fell apart.” He was in his twenties when he and Judy parted ways and admitted that he felt as though he did not have anything to fall back on as he did everything right.
A friend recommended a halfway house founded by the salvation army. It was for people who were at the lowest point in their lives where they could gather and talk about their problems.
The activist was hurting and in a lot of pain as he watched his life turn upside down because of the divorce. He went to see two people who run the place and they asked him what he wanted, to which he replied, “I want my marriage back, I want my wife.” Mike, while weeping, also expressed his need to be loved and respected. Luckily, he eventually found love again.
Mike Found Love Again — So Did Judy
After the divorce, Mike married actress Shelley Fabares, whom he first met in 1970, only to reunite with her 12 years later. The pair crossed paths at a CBS affiliates convention and became acquainted.
Mike was not the only one going through a breakup during that period, as Fabares was also in the process of a divorce from record mogul Lou Adler. After greeting one another at the convention, Mike invited her for coffee.
“Coach” star Shelley Fabares pictured with Mike Farrell on April 17, 1990 | Source: Getty Images
They later attended an exhibit of photos and films following his trip to Central America. Mike recalled in a 1991 interview, “I had just gotten back from a tour of refugee camps [in Honduras, EI Salvador and Nicaragua], and I was reeling from the terribly inhuman treatment I had seen.” Meanwhile, Fabares admitted she was out of touch about such harsh realities in Central America but soon learned about it.
Within a year of courtship, Mike asked her to marry him in a Topanga Canyon health-food restaurant, and she said yes. The couple tied the knot in 1984 at the Pacific Palisades home of the bride’s aunt, veteran actress Nanette Fabray.
Within six years of matrimony, the duo spoke lovingly of one another. Mike said of his spouse, “There is a light inside her that is just magical. I find her a constant source of rejuvenation.” While Fabares stated, “Mike grounds me, and I think I pull him out sometimes. It’s a nice mix.”
The lovebirds spent time with Mike’s kids, and Fabares was accepting of them. The following year, his former wife Judy also wed again to actor Joe Bratcher, and they all became a blended family.
Actress Shelly Fabares with her husband Mike Farrell and his children, Mike Farrell, Jr. and Erin Farrell, during the “JFK” world premiere at Mann’s Village Theater on December 17, 1991 in Westwood, California | Source: Getty Images
But traveling between homes proved overwhelming for the children, Mike explained. It further caused friction between the two couples, including Erin and Michael, and they all decided to find a mediator to understand their new dynamics involving the kids.
They went to family therapy and worked with a counselor. The sessions led to mutually beneficial communication. Mike noted it was not an easy process for all involved but that, as parents, they had to put the kids first, and they achieved their goal of having a harmonious environment. Ultimately, they became a “close, mutually supportive and loving extended family,” said Mike.
He explained taking on the role of a stepparent was not an easy feat for Fabares. Though his offspring eventually warmed up to her, they low-key wished he would get back together with their mother, Judy. He admitted his marriage to Fabares was difficult for his son and daughter, but the couple ensured they included them in everything.
Shelley Fabares and Mike Farrell attend the “Women In Film Emmy Nominee Luncheon” at the Bel Age Hotel on September 10, 1994 in West Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images
Fabares extended her support to the kids and accepted them as her stepchildren. She was not overbearing because she believed that with time, they would eventually come around.
Mike revealed Judy and Bratcher also helped out in ensuring the children had an easy “transition” in their new life with a stepmom, and everything worked out in the end. He added:
“It took a lot of love, patience, courage, and strength, but now they have two solid homes, which is what we all wanted.”
Mike, Fabares, and the kids would often go on vacations together. When recounting their trip to Tahiti once, the loving father shared that he, Erin, and Michael, became certified scuba divers while his wife chose to stay behind on the boat.
In addition, when Erin graduated, her brother, mom, and dad, including their respective spouses, were all in attendance. She introduced the two couples as “four of my parents.”
Mike Farrell poses with his mother and Shelley Fabares on December 17, 1998 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images
Although it seemed they had overcome the challenges, Mike and Fabares faced yet another hurdle. In 1986, Fabares lost her co-star Donna Reed to pancreatic cancer, and her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s during the same time, which took its toll on her.
As a result, the singer spent months at the hospital, and her beloved husband showed his full support by running errands on her behalf and remaining strong for her. During that period, Mike halted his acting career and occasionally accepted gigs as an actor and producer for TV and film. The Minnesota native shifted his focus to philanthropy work, including prison reform and international human rights campaigns.
Health Issues & Near-Death Experience
Mike once revealed his life purpose was “to be a meaningful person, to be somebody who cared, and somebody who had something to offer.” This was evident when he helped care for his ailing mother-in-law and became the primary caregiver of his beloved wife when she struggled with health woes. However, Mike admitted t wasn’t easy. Of both experiences, he said:
“I was going to fall down, fall apart. It’s tough. It is a hard job. We give so much of our attention to the patient that we forget about ourselves.”
Mike Farrell during an appearance on the podcast “Clear and Vivid with Alan Alda” | Source: YouTube@ClearandVividwithAlanAlda
Mike’s wife first injured herself by falling through the floor joists of her home in 1994, which was under construction at the time. Consequently, she suffered rib injuries on the left side of her body. Little did she know she would later need a liver transplant.
Fabares received treatment for her injuries and was referred to a physician as a precautionary measure. The follow-up check-up led to the discovery of how her liver counts were “off the charts.” Still, doctors did not know what they were dealing with, and in the years that followed, Fabares lived on medication that stabilized her, and her liver counts remained above board but seemed to plateau.
Things took an unexpected turn in 1991 when she experienced an esophageal bleed – the sudden bleeding of the esophagus. The California native was subsequently rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Emergency Department and learned she was severely sick.
Doctors explained the severity of her condition, which was determined as progressive liver failure, and she needed a liver transplant. One of the medical professionals, hepatologist John Vierling, M.D., explained Fabares’ liver had failed to the extent that no medication could help stabilize her, and if she bled any further, she would die.
Fabares and Mike were stunned by the news because they did not believe the situation would go that far. Fabares previously thought a liver transplant was merely a “safety measure” and she wouldn’t need to undergo the actual operation.
Still, she came to terms with the fact that she could die if she failed to get a new liver in time. She was placed on the liver transplant waiting list in April 1999 and knew it would take a while for her to get one.
Statistically, many of the people placed on the list usually pass away before getting a new liver, leaving Fabares to admit:
“I was very much aware that I was living on borrowed time.”
Fabares and her husband knew well enough that the surgery was one of the most intricate and laborious than a heart operation. After 22 months of waiting, on October 23, 2000, Fabares underwent liver transplant surgery, which was successful.
The “Coach” star said the harrowing experience “changed” her, adding even though she had her life back, she became a “different person” after the ordeal. The two-time Emmy nominee explained all her energy went into the healing process and that her recovery took two to three years.
However, when she eventually became healthy again, she fell into deep depression and thought it was absurd to feel that way while she had beat the odds. That was when all her emotions caught up with her, and she had to deal with what had occurred, which took some time.
Fabares, who is happy and healthy, said she is fortunate to have Mike, who stood by her through thick and thin. He accompanied her to doctor’s appointments and played an integral role in her recovery process. She couldn’t imagine pulling through without him. “I’m grateful for my husband. I’ve gained so much,” said Fabares.
The pair have been married for almost 40 years now. Mike gave an update about their home life, especially during the peak of COVID-19. The Hollywood star revealed his kids would fuss about him going grocery shopping as offered to do it on his behalf instead.
Mike Farrell and Shelley Fabares at the Los Angeles engagement of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” at the Pantages Theatre on September 13, 2018 in Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images
He divulged that his daughter Erin and grandchild Addison would visit him and Fabares at their house and swim in their yard as they watched from the patio because of social distancing. When Fabares first walked out to hug her granddaughter, the then seven-year-old would shout, “Social distancing!”
Erin gushed about her daughter in June 2020 when she celebrated her birthday. The doting mom posted a photo of the birthday girl getting breakfast in bed as she warmly smiled.
Mike Farrell and Shelley Fabares pictured at the funeral service of Gregory Peck at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on June 16, 2003 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images
Addison is an aspiring athlete who had her first ever “AYSO” soccer game in September 2022 and was described as a “fast and super athlete.”
In February 2023, Erin revealed she, her husband, and their child were out and about at the Redondo Beach Super Bowl Sunday and shared a photo of the trio widely smiling.