The actor, 62, played the TV family’s oldest sibling — Greg Brady — for five seasons on the 1969 sitcom. Since wrapping his role as Carol Brady’s son on the family comedy in 1974, Williams stayed in touch with his on-screen mother, whom he considered to be “many things: a mom, a friend, a coworker, an inspiration and a mentor.”
“Florence balanced quite a bit between her television world and her outside professional world and her own family. She definitely had a strong maternal instinct: six kids on The Brady Bunch and four children of her own, which she kind of had to mediate. She made people laugh. If she were watching me do this interview, if I were to get too sentimental or too sad, I’m sure that she would want to poke and give me a timeout and say, ‘Get it together.’ She would tell jokes; she would do off-color jokes,” Williams tells PEOPLE of the late TV matriarch.
Williams starred as one of six children on Sherwood Schwartz’s show, and remembers his motherly cast mate keeping the young stars focused on set: “She was able to corral us if we started to lose focus or our attention span was leaning, she’d call us out on that as a group or individually and bring us back in line.”
One of Williams’ most memorable memories of Henderson came after The Brady Bunch came to an end and he traveled to New York for an audition for the title role in Broadway’s Pippin. While waiting to showcase his prepared piece, Broadway veteran Henderson made a surprise debut before he took the stage.
“I prepared, but I didn’t know the world of Broadway, or auditioning that process. It was very intense and nerve-racking. There were a lot of competitors there my age who knew the ropes — New York people and that kind of stuff. So you could cut the tension with a knife backstage. Just before my name was called, Florence Henderson shows up backstage. She said,’ Barry, listen. When your name is called, just sit tight.’ So instead of my going out, she went out on stage. And now, she knows everybody. These are all friends, people that she’s worked with or known through the community, and she pretends, she puts on an act, and pretends to be an ingénue and starry-eyed and just learning her way around the theater. She sings a little A Capella, little passages, and everyone cracks up — it’s very funny. It really, really broke the tension of the process, of the room,” he recalls of auditioning for the role, which he later scored.
“That’s a story about her supporting me. If you talked to anybody on our show, they can give you examples of the same thing. This is someone who took time out of her day — nobody does that. Who does that? She took time out of her day, she came down, she knew how important it was to me, and she knew potentially that it could be helpful,” he adds of the actress.
Although the last time Williams saw Henderson was in January 2014 when she was awarded the Woman of the Year Award at the Nevada Ballet Theater’s Black & White Ball, he says the longtime friends, who at one point lived just four blocks from one another in Marina del Rey before he located to Branson, Missouri, “spoke and texted all the time.”
In addition to being a colleague, Williams credits Henderson to being a teacher. “She was very gracious in public and was an inspiration for me with how to handle a life and a life in front of the cameras, or about being well-known. She was very grateful to her fans. She came from very humble beginnings and I think always appreciated it when she became successful — never took it for granted,” he compliments her.
“There’s a reason the song starts off ‘The story of a lovely lady.’ That lovely lady was the real deal,” he says of Henderson. “She is a light that will shine for a long time. It is a loss for —. I have a very, very close personal one, but even for television, I think many have created a personal relationship with her and that she will be remembered and loved by many for a long, long time to come.”