Modern Family star Ed O’Neill reveals how his dad stopped him from joining the mob

Ed O’Neill has revealed that he almost took up a very different line of work before becoming a professional actor.

In an interview on Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s Dinner’s on Me podcast, the Married…with Children revealed that before he became Al Bundy, he nearly pursued a career in organized crime.

O’Neill explained that after being cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969, he was looking for a job in his hometown, Youngstown, Ohio, when his childhood friend Jim took him for a drive. “We’re driving and he said,, ‘How you doing? You know, you, you got cut, you got no money,’” O’Neill recalled. “I said, ‘No, I’m broke. You know, I don’t know what I’m going to do.’”

 Ed O'Neill attends the IMDb Studio at Acura Festival Village on January 27, 2020 in Park City, Utah.

O’Neill and Jim then stopped at a bar — the kind of “fancy place” that the actor “never would go.” “He started talking to the bartender,” O’Neill remembered. “He says, ‘I’m looking for this kid, his name is whatever, Demko, his name is Jimmy Demko, do you know him?’ And the guy says, ‘No, it doesn’t ring a bell.’… So he gives him 20, and he says, ‘Look, he’s an old friend of mine, I haven’t seen him in years, you know, I’m looking to reconnect, but I’d like to surprise him. So if he comes in again, this is my, you can call this number. You can reach me.’”

O’Neill said that this questionable encounter ended with a job offer. “We left and he said, ‘You can do this kind of stuff for me, you know, I’ll protect you,’” he said. “‘I’ll give you easy stuff. Just you collect here. You do that. You run, you drop something off here and there. You know, you may have to lean on a guy. You’re good at that. You can make some good money… I said, ‘Let me think about it, Jim. Cause I’m, I don’t know. I might be leaving town to pursue this acting thing.’

The future Modern Family star said that he genuinely considered his friend’s proposal. “I went home and I was thinking about it. I thought, you know, ‘what else am I going to do?’” O’Neill said.

The next day, O’Neill had a conversation with his father, who knew more about Jim’s shady associations than the actor realized. “He said,’ I saw you take a ride with Jimmy… I just want to ask you a question. Can you do time?’” O’Neill remembered responding, “no.”  “He said, ‘You couldn’t do time. You’d have a hard time being in jail, right?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think I could do time. He said, ‘Okay.’”

That conversation was enough to dissuade O’Neill from pursuing a life of crime. “I went, and then I called Jimmy, and I thanked him, and I said, ‘I’m going to New York. Yeah. I’m going to try this, this other thing.’” He then became a stage actor, which later led to massive success on television and in movies.