What Delta Burke Has Been Up To07/16/2021
Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Delta Burke was one of the biggest names in television. Getting her start in an uncredited role in the 1978 made-for-TV movie “Zuma Beach,” Burke is best known for her portrayal of Suzanne Sugarbaker on “Designing Women,” a show about four women running a design business. Burke became known not only for her comedic timing on the hit sitcom, but also for her beauty.
After she left the show in 1991, though, Burke’s career floundered. She kept acting, filling her resume with dozens of credits, but she never really recaptured the glory of her “Designing Women” days. These days, Burke lives a rather secluded life and is rarely seen either in person or on-screen. Has she retired? Is she staying out of the public eye by choice? What has she been doing since her star waned? Delta Burke has been up to more than you might think since her heyday, and we’ve got all the details.
Delta Burke was happy to put Designing Women behind her
Delta Burke’s departure from “Designing Women” didn’t exactly go smoothly. Things were tense on the show for some time, with The Baltimore Sun reporting in 1990 that Burke had made it known the set of the show was “not a happy workplace.” After coming forward about being subjected to psychological abuse by the producers of “Designing Women,” Burke was fired from the show. The fallout was difficult for her. “There’s still a lot of emotion there. A lot of frustration and anger,” she told the Deseret News in 1992, the year after she was let go.
Still, Burke was glad to be out of what she viewed to be an intolerable situation. “There were a lot of good times, but there were an awful lot of bad times that didn’t have to happen,” she said, comparing starring on the show to “putting in five tours of duty [in] Vietnam.”
The press painted Delta Burke as difficult to work with
While Delta Burke was adamant that it was the producers of “Designing Women” who were creating a hostile work environment, the producers and Burke’s co-stars alleged that it was Burke, herself, who had manufactured the situation. Few people believed the sitcom star, who told the Deseret News, “It’s hard for people to understand because it didn’t make any sense.”
More people bought into the narrative that Burke was a diva who was difficult to work with, a reputation that hounded her for years. As one of her former “Designing Women” co-stars, Jean Smart, told the Los Angeles Times, Burke “went from feeling like sort of the darling of the press to being their favorite target.”
The actress was slammed by the press and by other TV shows alike, with Burke recalling that the show “Married … With Children” took frequent jabs at her. “I felt like it was hunting season and I was ‘it,'” she said.
Delta Burke's career stayed strong well into the 2000s
In spite of her dramatic exit from “Designing Women” and the reputation she subsequently gained as being difficult, Delta Burke’s name still carried a lot of weight in Hollywood following her departure. She continued to act steadily throughout the ’90s and the 2000s, with major roles in shows and films like “A Promise to Carolyn,” “Maternal Instincts,” “Popular,” “Dangerous Child,” “DAG,” and “Boston Legal.” She even landed her own sitcom, “Delta,” the year after leaving “Designing Women,” although it only lasted for one season.
While these roles may not have been as big as her stint as Suzanne Sugarbaker on “Designing Women,” they did keep Burke busy. The star also landed some guest roles on many shows over the years, including “The Carol Burnett Show,” “Diagnosis Murder,” “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” and “Family Law.” She racked up a steady list of appearances until 2009 when Burke had a guest appearance on “Drop Dead Diva.”
Delta Burke has revisited her Designing Women character more than once since exiting the series
While Delta Burke may not have left “Designing Women” on the best of terms, her star power was undeniable. She would go on to reprise the role of Suzanne Sugarbaker more than once, even landing her own “Designing Women” spinoff, a show centered on Suzanne Sugarbaker called “Women of the House.” The short-lived series saw Suzanne enter politics to take over a Congress seat left by her deceased husband. Alas, the 1995 spinoff only lasted for one season, but it was not the last time that fans would see Burke revisit the world of “Designing Women.”
A few years later, Burke rejoined her former castmates for “The Designing Women Reunion” in 2003, seemingly putting past hurts aside to record the special; in a 2000 interview with the Los Angeles Times, however, Burke revealed that she had barely been in touch with her “Designing Women” castmates since leaving the show. “It got so ugly at the end,” she said.
Delta Burke faced major health challenges in the years after Designing Women
The years following Delta Burke’s departure from “Designing Women” were difficult, with things coming to a head in 1998. Burke experienced a number of losses that year, including the deaths of her grandmother and her pet dog. In addition, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Meanwhile, Burke was experiencing her own health troubles, but doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. “I was tired,” she told Eating Well. “My body didn’t feel right. I knew something was wrong, but nobody could tell me what.”
Burke said that she was initially incorrectly diagnosed with Epstein-Barr Virus before another doctor determined that she actually had diabetes. Told that she had to “get [her] blood glucose under control,” Burke changed her eating habits and took charge of her health.
While she was able to manage her diabetes, this wasn’t the only major health challenge that Burke faced.
Delta Burke opened up about living with depression
Delta Burke has been frank about living with depression. While she had experienced depressive episodes since her teens, being in the public eye made her depression worse. Not only was there the public fallout that led to her firing from “Designing Women,” but there was also the harsh treatment from the media as well as constant barbs from the press and the public about her fluctuating weight, per Eating Well. “I had everything I ever wanted. I was famous. I was making lots of money. But I was seriously depressed,” Burke told the Orlando Sentinel in 2003.
Burke also struggled with hoarding and even contemplated suicide at one point when the tabloids were being particularly cruel. “I just wanted the pain to go away,” she said on “Entertainment Tonight” (via News Channel 10).
Thankfully, Burke is doing better after seeking treatment and has spoken out about ending the stigma surrounding mental health. “My message is, ‘You don’t have to live like this. There are therapies and medications that can help. They changed my life. They can change yours,'” she told the Orlando Sentinel.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Delta Burke's marriage to Gerald McRaney is still going strong
One constant in Delta Burke’s life has been her husband, fellow actor Gerald McRaney. McRaney, a prolific actor whom you might notice from shows such as “This Is Us,” “Filthy Rich,” and “House of Cards,” met Burke at the height of her “Designing Women” fame in 1987. He proposed on the second date, they married two years later, and the rest is history. “As a man, I’ve had the love of the finest woman I can possibly imagine,” McRaney told People in 2017.
Burke, for her part, credits McRaney with helping her through not only the highs and lows of her career, but also through her health troubles, notably helping her cope with her depression. “I’d become this sobbing fool who couldn’t cope with life, but he helped by loving me, protecting me and learning how to help me,” she told the Orlando Sentinel.
McRaney was also Burke’s rock when she was blasted by the press and mocked for gaining weight. As she told Eating Well, her husband has always loved her for who she is. “It didn’t matter to him how fat I got,” she said. McRaney, according to Burke, has always prioritized her health, taking care of her after her diabetes diagnosis. “He likes to give me my shots and says it makes him feel like he’s taking care of me,” she said.
Delta Burke branched out to Broadway
While Delta Burke’s screen credits may have stagnated later in her career, she did get the opportunity to show off her skills on stage. As noted by Playbill, the sitcom star made her Broadway debut in 2002, joining the cast of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” as Mrs. Meers. Burke’s run in the musical came to an end in 2004, but she was seen on the Great White Way again in 2005 when she portrayed the role of Truvy in “Steel Magnolias.”
In 2006, Burke set her sights to stages on the West Coast, starring in “Southern Baptist Sissies” in Los Angeles, playing three roles in the production, which centers on men “coming to terms with and questioning their faith and sexuality,” as noted by Broadway World. Playwright Del Shores had nothing but praise for the leading lady, saying “Delta is a brilliant actress and an absolute dream to work with. I can’t wait to have her on stage.”
Delta Burke's 2012 comeback was short-lived
By the late 2000s, Delta Burke’s acting roles were drying up. From 2009 to 2011, she has no credits on her resume. In 2012, she appeared as Nonie in what is listed on IMDb as a TV movie, “Counter Culture.”
Per Deadline, however, “Counter Culture” was actually filmed as a pilot for what should have been a glorious return to television for Burke. Sadly, the show never got off the ground — but not because the pilot flopped. Instead, a series of unfortunate circumstances led to the show falling through. It initially was delayed due to casting troubles. Then Burke fell on set, leading to a further delay in the show’s taping schedule. Eventually, the show was scrapped.
Had “Counter Culture” gotten off the ground, it would likely have resonated with “Designing Women” fans, as, like the hit sitcom, the ill-fated series focused on a group of women running a business — in this case, three sisters running a family diner. Burke was set to play one of the siblings, alongside Kerri Kenney and Margo Martindale, while Doris Roberts was slated to play their aunt.
Delta Burke isn't doing much acting these days
Since her ill-fated TV comeback in 2012, Delta Burke hasn’t had much luck landing acting roles. While she hasn’t officially announced that she’s leaving show business, since the cancelation of “Counter Culture” in 2012, she only has one screen credit to her name: an episode of “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings” in 2019. In the episode, “If I Had Wings,” Burke starred alongside her husband, Gerald McRaney.
In 2014, the actress hinted to the Daily Mail that she would be happy to continue acting, but it seems there aren’t many offers on the table for her. As Burke told the outlet, she has “no work on the horizon.”
At least some of her retirement seems to be by choice, though. In 2020, a source told OK! that Burke chose to step back from her career “because the industry and the people in it were becoming detrimental to her health,” but the source added that she is doing much better.
Delta Burke is more than happy to live her life out of the spotlight
What Delta Burke is doing these days is really anyone’s guess. She’s living life out of the spotlight, although her husband, Gerald McRaney, is still acting steadily. The “Designing Women” actress is rarely seen in public and has no public social media profiles, making it seem like she really doesn’t want anyone prying into her private life.
Burke seems to be okay with not being as famous as she was decades ago. In a 2014 interview with the Daily Mail, she said that fans shouldn’t worry about her. “Everything is fine, I’m just not very exciting right now!” she said. Burke also spoke extensively about her husband in the interview, so it appears that she’s focused on enjoying her home life outside of the spotlight.
She’s not entirely secluded, though, as a source told OK! in 2020 that she “does get out by herself occasionally” and “still smiles at people who recognize her on the street.”
Delta Burke was notably missing from a 2020 Designing Women reunion
The stars of “Designing Women” have reunited since the series’ 2003 reunion special — the entire cast got together (virtually, that is) in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic for a read-through of the show’s pilot episode to raise money for racial justice organization Color of Change as well as COVID relief efforts through World Central Kitchen. However, one star was notably absent: Delta Burke. Instead, Wendi McLendon-Covey, known for the sitcom “The Goldbergs,” filled in for her.
Burke’s absence, however, wasn’t due to any bad blood with her former castmates. As her former co-star Jean Smart explained to Collider, Burke had to miss out on the event, as she was caring for her mother at the time. While Burke’s presence was missed, the performance still went smoothly, garnering tens of thousands of views on YouTube. And Smart even noted that it “was absolutely shocking, how familiar [working together with her former castmates] felt.”
A Designing Women episode was pulled after a controversy broke out involving Delta Burke
While Delta Burke is living life out of the spotlight and “Designing Women” has been off the air for decades, her time on the show made headlines in 2021 after a still from the show resurfaced. In it, Burke — as her character, Suzanne Sugarbaker — is shown wearing blackface.
As noted by the Saanich News, the image was taken from a scene in “Designing Women” in which Suzanne and her friends perform as the Motown group The Supremes. While most of the group comes to the correct decision that blackface is unacceptable, Suzanne ends up donning it anyway. The image resurfaced after CTV used the image as a Black History Month highlight. The network later apologized for doing so, removing the image as well as the entire episode. However, Burke did not publicly comment on the controversy.
Will we ever see Delta Burke star in a Designing Women revival?
While it seems that Delta Burke is happy living her life out of the public eye these days, many fans have wondered if she will ever step back into the limelight for a “Designing Women” revival. Burke did revisit the character of Suzanne Sugarbaker in the past, after all, and many beloved ’80s and ’90s sitcoms have seen reboots.
Unfortunately, a revival is probably not in the cards for “Designing Women,” but not for the reason you might think. It seems that Burke has left all the drama that followed her departure from the show in the past, and it’s even possible that she’d be on board for bringing Suzanne into the 21st century. However, there are other, more practical, concerns that her former co-star Jean Smart says would hinder a revival.
Three main cast members of “Designing Women” — Dixie Carter, Meshach Taylor, and Alice Ghostley — have died since the show wrapped, and Smart doesn’t think the show would work without them. “We only have less than half the cast, so that would be very sad and pointless,” she told Collider when asked about the possibility of a reboot. It looks like we’ll just have to catch Burke and the rest of the cast in reruns.
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