She was born Sada Carolyn Thompson in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 27, 1927 to Hugh Woodruff Thompson and his wife Corlyss (née Gibson). The family moved to Fanwood, New Jersey a few years later where Sada attended Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, graduating in the class of 1945.
Sada earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre at the Carnegie Institute of Technology after which she worked steadily in regional theatre in such plays as The Seagull, Pygmalion, Our Town, Arms and the Man, and Blithe Spirit. She received training at Pittsburgh Playhouse, where she appeared in numerous productions.
Sada made her Off-Broadway debut in a 1955 production of Under Milk Wood and the following year she appeared on television in a Goodyear Television Playhouse production. She made her Broadway debut in the 1959 musical Juno. Her additional New York City stage-credits include The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Tartuffe and Twigs.
Her stage performances won her an Obie Award, a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play (for “Twigs”), three Drama Desk Awards and two Sarah Siddons Awards (the last presented for outstanding performances in Chicago theatre). Sada was elected to the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2005.
On the strength of her success in Twigs, Sada was signed to play neighbor Irene Lorenzo on All in the Family. After taping her first episode, however, she was replaced by Betty Garrett, when it became obvious that she and producer Norman Lear had different opinions about how the character should be played.
Sada was subsequently cast as matriarch Kate Lawrence on Family. Her portrayal of Kate was lauded for its realism. Sada won the 1978 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for the role, which also garnered three nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Television Series Drama.
She was nominated for the Emmy Award nine times, including a nomination for her portrayal of Carla’s mother on Cheers. Her additional television credits included Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, The Love Boat, Father Dowling Mysteries, Andre’s Mother, Indictment: The McMartin Trial, ER and Law & Order. Her feature films included The Pursuit of Happiness, Desperate Characters, and Pollock.
Personal life and death
Sada was married to Donald E. Stewart from December 18, 1949, until her death. She and her husband lived in Southbury, Connecticut. Their daughter, Liza Stewart, is a costume designer.
Sada died on May 4, 2011, in Danbury, Connecticut, of lung disease, aged 83.