If you watched the NBC drama Police Woman (1974-1978), then you certainly remember Angie Dickinson, who played the title role of Sergeant Pepper Anderson. She brought a quiet dignity, intensity, and refinement to her portrayal.
Dickinson, born Angeline Brown on September 30, 1931, in Kulm, North Dakota, had a lengthy and distinguished career in films and on television both prior to and after Police Woman.
Her fans wonder how she is today and what she’s been doing professionally. We have the scoop on Angie Dickinson, whose classiness was always her trademark.
Dickinson Continued Acting Into The 2000s
2000 was a busy year for Dickinson. She had four separate projects, most notably Pay It Forward, in which she played Helen Hunt’s homeless, alcoholic mom. She appeared in Big Bad Love (2001) with Arliss Howard and Debra Winger, and Elvis Has Left The Building (2004) with Kim Basinger and Tom Hanks. Dickinson’s last film appearance was in the TV movie Mending Fences in 2009.
She’s happy with where she is in her life and isn’t looking to extend her career by accepting more acting jobs. As Dickinson told AARP in 2011, “I am not looking for work, I don’t really care. I’ve had my day in the sun, and I am very content.”
Her ‘Police Woman’ Role Has Had A Lasting Legacy
Although it may seem incredible that it took until the 1970s to reach these milestones, Police Woman was the first television program to star a woman in an hour-long show and the first to feature a woman as a law enforcement officer.
Dickinson reflected on the trailblazing nature of that show in 2001 on the radio program Fresh Air. “It was absolutely groundbreaking,” she said. Prior to Police Woman, she noted that women starred in comedies on TV, not dramas.
The show also inspired women to want to become real-life law enforcement professionals. Dickinson said, “Yes, there was a surge [of applications from women who were eager to join the police force.]. And a lot of fan letters with that—I became a cop because of you” (per CBS).
Having the distinction of being the first actress to open those doors meant a lot to Dickinson, but it came at a steep personal price. She said she worked grueling 12-hour days and sacrificed much of her social and family life because of her job’s daily demands.
“I lost friends,” she acknowledged. “I lost a husband,” referring to her spouse at the time, composer Burt Bacharach. They divorced in 1981, three years after Police Woman ended its run.
She Lost Her Daughter In 2007
Dickinson has had a life filled with success, glamor, and the satisfaction that comes from having a bold-face Hollywood name for decades—but she has experienced her share of heartbreaking sorrow as well.
Dickinson and Burt Bacharach had a daughter named Lea Nikki (whom they called ‘Nikki’) in 1966. The child was born three months premature and was later found to have Asperger’s syndrome along with an eye condition called strabismus, a condition that causes someone’s eyes to focus in different directions.
“She was very smart and funny and wonderful,” Dickinson recalled affectionately. “Yeah, so all the memories of her are my best memories.”
Dickinson understood the painful circumstances at the root of her daughter’s situation. She told Los Angeles Magazine in 2010, “If she hit me, she would hit me out of frustration, of not being able to cope with whatever it was, was her problem. She had no coping skills.”
Dickinson explained how pervasive and frustrating this was for Nikki. “People think, ‘Oh, coping skills—that means that you can deal with it if you sprain your ankle or you didn’t get the job.’ The other person does not know and will never know that it means not being able to cope with anything … “
Added to that was the little-known nature of Asperger’s at that time, which only made Nikki’s life even more keenly challenging.
Dickinson brought her daughter to a residential facility, the Constance Bultman Wilson Center in Faribault, Minnesota, where she remained for 10 years. From Dickinson’s account, Nikki’s stay there was not a success.
She finally decided to be with her daughter full-time. “Nikki and I did everything together,” Dickinson said. “We traveled together and saw movies together, even more than before. My life—conscious, subconscious, every conscious—was Nikki; I was completely dedicated to her. She just was my soul mate.”
Sadly, as Dickinson eventually learned, even a mother’s powerful and unyielding love was not enough to save Nikki. She took her own life in 2007 at the age of 40.
She Enjoyed An Active Love Life
Dickinson was married twice. Her first husband was former football player Gene Dickinson. They were married from 1952 to 1960.
Her second spouse was composer Burt Bacharach, whom she wed in 1965. They separated in 1976 and dated others before they were divorced. From Dickinson’s perspective, their relationship was rocky.
“He should never have been married. He never loved me, I can tell you that right now, the way one loves. He loved in his own way, which is not too good. And so, he had no respect for me,” she told CBS.
Dickinson moved in a world filled with charismatic men. She was linked romantically with some of them. She and Frank Sinatra had a relationship, but Ol’ Blue Eyes didn’t envision himself marching to the altar with Dickinson, who appeared with him in Ocean’s 11 (1960).
Their lifestyles were not alike, either. He was apparently a hard-core nocturnal socializer. “And he said, [according to Dickinson}, ‘You know, I’m not going to marry an actress.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody,.’ Dickinson said.
“And I actually didn’t want to marry him. So, I didn’t want him to ask me to marry him. ‘Cause I didn’t wanna say no to Frank Sinatra!”
In the 1980s, Dickinson was involved with another A-lister, actor Glenn Ford. “He was a stay-at-home guy and when we were together he just didn’t talk a lot which made it difficult to keep the relationship going,” Dickinson told CBS. She and television personality Larry King were reportedly an item in the 1990s.
Angie Dickinson stayed true to herself throughout her life and career. She rose through the ranks in Hollywood at a time when women were often subjugated to men, both on-screen and off.
She stood her ground and set the stage for actresses who followed her in woman-led TV dramas like Cagney & Lacey. We say bravo to this acting legend who is strong, independent, and at peace with herself.