'Rest peacefully dearest': Richard Gilliland, actor and husband to Jean Smart, dies at 71

Actor Richard Gilliland has died. He was 71.

Richard Gilliland – whose numerous acting credits include the CBS sitcom "Designing Women," where he met his wife of nearly 34 years, Jean Smart – has died. He was 71.

Gilliland died on March 18 in Los Angeles following a brief illness, his family confirmed to USA TODAY Thursday in a statement provided by Smart's representative, Ame Vanlden.

In 1986, Gilliland landed a recurring role on "Designing Women" for five seasons as baseball talent scout J.D. Shackelford, the boyfriend of Annie Potts' Mary Jo Shively. That's where he met and eventually married Smart, who played Charlene Frazier-Stillfield on the series.

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"I met him when he was kissing someone else," Smart said during a 2017 interview with Northwest Prime Time, adding that she asked fellow cast member Delta Burke to find out if Gilliland was on the market. "Naturally, Delta walked up to him and blurted, 'Jean wants to know if you’re married.'"

Smart said they instantly hit it off after she "lured" him to her dressing room to help with a crossword puzzle, and they never looked back. The couple tied the knot in June 1987, in cast member Dixie Carter's rose garden that she shared with Hal Holbrook.

Gilliland and Smart share two children together: son Connor, 31, and Bonnie ("Ani"), who turns 12 in May.

Jean Smart and Richard Gilliland

The couple also starred together in the stage productions of "It Had to Be You" and "Love Letters," the telefilms "Just My Imagination" and "Audrey’s Rain," and most notably, the Fox series "24," where Gilliland portrayed Captain Stan Cotter alongside Smart's first lady Martha Logan.

The duo was slated to work together again this summer in a Tate Taylor film prior to Gilliland's death.

His other acting credits include "Operation Petticoat," "Just Our Luck," "McMIllan & Wife" and "Heartland," in addition to guest appearances on "Criminal Minds," "Dexter," "Scandal," "Thirtysomething" and "Desperate Housewives."

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In an Instagram tribute Thursday, Potts asked her late "Designing Women" co-star to "please give Dixie and Meshach a squeeze for me," referring to co-stars Dixie Carter, who died in 2010, and Meshach Taylor, who died in 2014.

"Rest peacefully dearest Richard," Potts captioned a picture of her, Gilliland and Smart on set.

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"Criminal Minds" star Joe Mantegna shared a throwback picture of himself and Gilliland, who starred together in the Goodman School of Drama's 1972 production of "Godspell."

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"He was Jesus and I was Judas," Mantegna tweeted. "Beginning a friendship of 50 yrs. In June of ‘87 within 78 hours I was best man at his wedding and he became a godfather of my 1st child. I, my wife and children mourn the passing of a great a friend."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Richard Gilliland, actor and husband to Jean Smart, dies at 71