Ed O'Neill Says He Almost Joined the Mob Ahead of Acting Success: 'I Had Friends ... in Organized Crime'

O'Neill recounted the story on a new episode of Jesse Tyler Ferguson's 'Dinner's on Me' podcast

<p>Michael Kovac/Getty</p> Ed O

Michael Kovac/Getty

Ed O'Neill in Park City, Utah, on Jan. 27, 2020

Mob life was not for Ed O'Neill.

During a conversation with his former Modern Family costar Jesse Tyler Ferguson on the latest episode of Ferguson's Dinner's on Me podcast, the veteran actor, 77, recalled how he considered a life of organized crime in the late '60s before heading to New York to pursue a career in acting.

As the Married ... with Children alum explained, he was tempted because he'd just been cut from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he was desperately looking for a job in his hometown in Ohio.

"I had friends whose fathers were in organized crime," said O'Neill. He then proceeded to tell the story of how a "dear friend" from his childhood, Jim, took him for a drive and made him an offer he almost couldn't refuse.

“We're driving and he said, ‘How you doing? You got cut, you got no money,’ ” O’Neill told Ferguson, 48. “I said, ‘No, I'm broke. I don't know what I'm gonna do, Jim.’ "

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<p>Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty</p> Ed O'Neill in 1982

Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty

Ed O'Neill in 1982

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After the two stopped at a "fancy" bar where Jim had a suspicious conversation with the bartender about whether the latter had seen an "old friend" of Jim's, “We left and [Jim] said, ‘You can do this kind of stuff for me ... I'll protect you,' " O'Neill recounted. " 'I'll give you easy stuff. Just you collect here. You do that. You run, you drop something off here and there. You may have to lean on a guy, but you're good at that. You can make some good money.' "

O'Neill's initial response? " ‘Let me think about it, Jim. 'Cause I might be leaving town to pursue this acting thing,' which he knew about," the actor said.

And while O'Neill did initially go home and consider Jim's offer ("I thought, 'What else am I gonna do?' " he told Ferguson), it was his dad who persuaded him to head in another direction when they had a conversation about it the following day.

“He said, 'I saw you take a ride with Jimmy ... I just wanna ask you a question: Can you do time?' I said, 'No,' " the Little Giants actor recalled. "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.' "

O'Neill continued, “I called Jimmy, and I thanked him and I said, ‘I'm going to New York. I'm gonna try this other thing.' "

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While he wouldn't land his first onscreen roles until a decade later, O'Neill went on to have a flourishing acting career in both film and television, notably on the latter with Married ... with Children and Modern Family. He has earned numerous accolades, including four Screen Actors Guild Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The ensemble cast of Modern Family, including Ferguson, have even remained close since its conclusion in 2020, after 11 seasons on the air.

Several members of the cast celebrated O'Neill's 74th birthday that year with tributes on social media, including Sofia Vergara, who played his character Jay Pritchett's wife Gloria on the ABC sitcom.

“Feliz Cumpleaños Ed O’Neill!!🎉🎉🎉🎉 miss uuuu already!❤️❤️” the actress, 51, captioned a shot of the two of them on Instagram.

Eric Stonestreet, who played O’Neill’s on-screen son-in-law Cameron Tucker, dedicated a tribute post of his own, writing, “Happy birthday to the master of the 3 word sentence. No one can get more out of 3 words in a scene than the great Ed O’Neill. He and I worked together on a show from 2009 to early 2020 called Modern Family. Happy birthday Ed.”

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