MIDWAY THROUGH AN INTERVIEW IN the living room of her three-bedroom, hacienda-style home in the Hollywood Hills, Katey Sagal is remembering her mother, Sara, a singer and songwriter from whom she learned to love music—and who died of heart disease when Katey was just 19. Suddenly, Sagal’s mind seems to wander. “Can we just stop this for one second?” she says softly, looking longingly out to her bougainvillea-shaded courtyard. “Where’s Jack?” Moments later, her husband of four months, country-music drummer Jack White, saunters in. “Did you need me?” he asks. Only then is Sagal—armed again with her trademark loopy smile—ready to continue.
Despite the stardom that is her reward for playing raunchy Peg Bundy on Fox’s sitcom hit Married…with Children, Sagal, 38, occasionally needs some gentle reassurance. In 1981, six years after her mother’s death, her father, TV director Boris Sagal, died at 58 when he was decapitated by a helicopter blade during the filming of the miniseries World War III. The tragedy catapulted Katey, then an up-and-coming actress and singer, into drug use. In 1990, when she emerged from that hell, Sagal, by then ensconced on Married and living with White, suffered a miscarriage. A year later came a second, well-publicized pregnancy, followed by the devastating stillbirth of a girl that she and White had already named Ruby.
Over time, Sagal has come to accept her wrenching losses. “I wanted to believe, for some reason, that [the stillbirth] was my fault,” she says. “I had to accept the fact that sometimes things happen that are out of our hands.” But now, at long last, that includes some good things. Foremost, Sagal is again pregnant; the baby is due in August. Katey is “just glowing,” says her sister Jean, 29, who costarred with her twin, Liz, on NBC’s 1984 sitcom Double Trouble. “She’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her.”
As if to underscore that happiness, this month Sagal is also delivering her first solo rhythm-and-blues album, titled, confidently, All Is Well. “The album came to me at just the right time,” she says. “I was able to put a lot of what had just gone on into it. I was able to channel the hurt.”
In that case she would have had enough material for a boxed set. As a lonely, overweight schoolgirl growing up in Pacific Palisades, Calif., Sagal, the oldest of five children, first discovered music as “a comfort zone for me.” She needed it, especially during her mother’s illness and after her death, when Katey became a surrogate mother to her siblings (besides the twins, there are David, 37, a lawyer, and Joey, 35, an actor). “She’s always been the one we turn to,” says Jean. By the time an early marriage to musician Freddie Beckmeier failed in 1981, Katey was well on her way to a musical career—and a fast-lane existence—as back-up vocalist for Bob Dylan, Olivia Newton-John and (as one of the fabled Harlettes) Bette Midler. But with her father’s gruesome death, says Sagal, “drugs became a way of life for me, a way of coping.”
It was a debilitating way that ended only in 1986, when Sagal enrolled in a 12-step recovery program, two months before landing the role on Married. Then, singing at a charity fund-raiser in 1990, she met White. Not long after, the couple (by then living together) celebrated when Sagal became pregnant—and mourned when she miscarried a month later. “That’s a real life, a real soul,” says Sagal, referring to the lost baby. “You bond quick.”
Then, in October 1991, eight months pregnant with Ruby, she was rushed to L.A.’s Cedars-Sinai Hospital, where, during a cesarean, the baby died. “We had picked out everything for Ruby,” says Sagal softly. “Her clothes, her furniture.”
“We held her and said goodbye to her,” adds White. “Ruby will always be our first little girl.”
After a period of blaming herself, says Sagal, she finally “realized there was no tangible reason for it. It was a really humbling experience, but I found out I had more faith than I thought I had.”
Resilience too. Recalls Ed O’Neill, who plays Peg’s husband, Al, on Married: “I was amazed by her strength. I thought she’d be a basket case, but when she came back, she was very professional.” And Sagal was further bolstered last Thanksgiving by her wedding to White in a small country church near Nashville. “Jack is good at handling someone with a big career,” says Sagal. “He’s supportive, understanding and comfortable with himself.”
Which is more than Sagal can say about her own physical slate these days. “The nausea hasn’t been too much fun,” she says with a wry smile. “And I cry a lot. But then I cry a lot anyway.” Certainly she and White are viewing parenthood with a mix of excitement and apprehension. “I don’t think we’re gonna have a baby shower. We’re gonna do it after,” Sagal says soberly. “And the baby’s room will be prepared while we’re in the hospital,” adds While.
But after a brief period of reflective silence, Katey Sagal—typically—rebounds. “Maybe I’ll just love this baby thing so much,” she chirps, “I’ll toss everything and start popping out kids!”
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles