In the revival, which debuts Nov. 26, the cast and crew made certain he was there in spirit. His character Richard has also died on the show — but his memory provides key story points as his family processes his loss.
While filming, Herrmann’s set family was able to work through their own feelings about his passing as the material paid loving tribute to their cosstar.
“It was really a big day to walk on the Gilmore stage without Ed, but there were tears of joy all over the place as well,” Lauren Graham told PEOPLE at the premiere of the new series at Los Angeles’ Fox Bruin Theater on Friday.
“I really was deeply fond of Ed,” actress Kelly Bishop explained. She shared a plethora of screen time with Herrmann, playing his on-screen wife Emily Gilmore.
“We were set buddies — we hung out together,” she said. “We did crossword puzzles together, occasionally had a drink after the show, and stayed in touch, mainly via email. So I knew it was going to be sad, but when I read the script, I thought he was so much a part of the show.”
She added: “I told his wife that it was going to be bittersweet. She was going to be sad, but very proud because he’s as much a part of the show as if he were still with us. … I think it was wonderfully handled, frankly.”
Series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino recalled how shocked the Gilmore Girls team was to learn of Herrmann’s passing, shortly before the long-speculated series revival became a reality.
“When he died it really felt like, it was weird because he died not too long before we had our [cast] reunion in Austin [at the 2015 ATX Television Festival],” Sherman-Palladino revealed. “So we were all very raw, and it was a big surprise, and we didn’t really know he was sick because he was very proud – he was a proud dude. He was dad.”
“It rocked our world so much,” she continued. “And it’s obviously going to rock Lorelai, Rory and especially Emily’s world so much that that seemed like a good place to chime in. And in chiming in, and seeing how that would affect them, it felt like it was a good way to honor him.”
Bishop said that because Lorelai and Emily’s journeys are about the loss of Richard, the show felt special. “I lost a husband — she lost a parent — there was so much more heft to the scenes, and there was a lot of emotion at times,” she said. “I mean, it wasn’t all good, and it wasn’t all understanding and warm and lovely. It really changed the dynamic tremendously.”
She retains fond memories of Herrmann — particularly in how his intriguing mix of carrying high standards while remaining warm and open-minded.
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“He was always interested in people,” said Bishop. “The thing about Ed that was interesting is that he was a bit of an elitist because he was very smart and he loved learning, but while he had a sort of elitist attitude, he was completely friendly with anyone. So he was not really a snob…He could be friends with anyone. He was a great guy.”
Harrmann enjoyed a long and prolific career on screen and on stage — including a Tony winning performance in 1976’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession and as well as memorable appearances in films including The Great Waldo Pepper, The Paper Chase, Annie, Overboard and The Lost Boys.
He was also Emmy-nominated for his guest work on St. Elsewhere and The Practice — and for his portrayal of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Eleanor & Franklin TV movies.
The actor’s daughter Ryen Herrmann attended the premiere and revealed that her father didn’t fully realize “just how many fans and the fan base until there would be an event like this.”
“To him, he got up and got to go to work — but it wasn’t work for him,’ she said. “It was, ‘I got up and got to go be with my other family.’ I mean, literally that’s what it was. It wasn’t work to him.’
“In our personal lives, Gilmore Girls was an extension of our family,” Ryen added. “I know that he would have loved to be a part of this in real life, so this is incredible for us.”
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And Bishop thinks that perhaps her co-star’s spirit made a mischievous appearance while she was shooting a new scene in the Gilmore family living room, where they shot so many scenes together.
“One time I was standing at the bar fixing drinks or something, and I just thought how many times I’ve stood here, and I’m going to turn around and he’s not going to be there – except I think he was,” she said. “I just feel like he was hovering, and he did manage to turn the lights off once.”
“I kept calling for him,” she recalled. “I’d sit there on set: ‘Come on, Ed! Come on! Come see us!’ And then one day finally as we got ready to shoot, everything was set up, and everything [electronic] blew. And I went, ‘Okay, I think he’s just arrived. I think he’s with us, yes.’ “