The Tragic 2001 Death Of Barbara Eden's Only Child

Barbara Eden is one of America's most beloved television stars, having won over audiences with her comedic portrayal of a genie in the hit series "I Dream of Jeannie." The show, which ran from 1965 to 1970, found much of its humor from the relationship between Eden's genie named "Jeannie" and an astronaut who discovered her in a bottle, perĀ IMDb. Larry Hagman played Major Anthony Nelson, and he and Eden had wonderful chemistry on screen.

While her character Jeannie had all sorts of magic at her fingertips, Eden was powerless to change some of the challenges she experienced in her personal life. And there was nothing she could have done to prevent perhaps the greatest loss of her life. She spent years watching her son Matthew Ansara battle substance abuse issues. And just when it seemed that he was headed in a good direction, he relapsed. Ansara died in 2001 of an accidental overdose, according to ABC News.

Eden's son started using drugs early on

Eden's son Matthew arrived around the time of perhaps her greatest success. He was born on August 29, 1965, per Closer Weekly. A few weeks later, "I Dream of Jeannie" launched its first season. Eden seemed to finally have it all, in both her personal and professional life. She and her husband, actor Michael Ansara, had been married since 1958. They had met when they both worked for Fox (via ABC News). He played Cochise in the series "Broken Arrow" while she took over Marilyn Monroe's role from the hit comedy film "How to Marry a Millionaire" for the TV adaptation.

Eden and Ansara had been trying to have a child for seven years before welcoming Matthew. She had to balance her career and the financial needs of her family along with her role as a mother. Her husband was having a hard time landing parts, which led Eden to take on extra work outside of "I Dream of Jeannie" to keep the money coming in, according to Closer Weekly. She even had to miss Matthew's second birthday for a work obligation in Las Vegas.

Eden's son was born at the height of her fame

In 1971, Eden learned that she was expecting her second child, but sadly her pregnancy ended in a stillbirth (via Closer Weekly). This loss and other tensions in her marriage led her and her first husband to split up in 1974. It is around this time that her son Matthew first started using drugs, according to ABC News. Eden later remarried and wanted to move with Matthew to Chicago to be with her second husband, Charles Donald Fegert, and his children, but the then 12-year-old Matthew didn't want to go. He chose to stay in California with his father instead. Eden returned to visit her son every few weeks.

When she came back to California after her second divorce, Eden discovered how much her son had changed. She eventually learned that her now teenaged child had been using drugs for years. Eden and her ex-husband, Michael Ansara, got Matthew to seek treatment for his drug problem, but rehab didn't work for him the first time around. In fact, Eden estimated that he went through seven or eight rounds of rehab. She finally took a hard stance with him, explaining that he couldn't live with her if he was using drugs. Matthew was homeless for time and living on the streets.

Matthew Ansara tried to get sober for years

It was during one of Matthew's many stays in rehab that Eden married her third husband, Jon Eicholtz. Matthew managed to get his life together around the age of 27, per Closer Weekly. He married, took classes at University of California Los Angeles, and held down a job. But once again, his addiction got the better of him and he fell back into using heroin. He was hospitalized at one point for a nearly fatal overdose.

In 2000, Matthew seemed to have turned a corner and straightened himself out. He had found love with Leanna Green, and the couple got engaged (via Closer Weekly). He developed a passion for bodybuilding, according to ABC News. Eden explained to the news outlet that "His life was on an even track." He was getting some acting work. Ansara and Green were planning to get married on September 1, 2001. Eden later explained to Entertainment Tonight that he had been sober for nearly two years when tragedy struck.

Eden's son relapsed with deadly consequences

Eden soon experienced every parent's worst nightmare: a call from the police. Matthew Ansara was found in a car at a gas station in Monrovia, California, on June 25, 2001, according to People magazine. He was declared dead at the scene, and it was later revealed that he had died of an accidental overdose of heroin. Ansara had started taking steroids as part of his bodybuilding efforts, which were also found with him in the car along with heroin, marijuana, and a syringe (via ABC News).

Eden described her son to People magazine, saying, "When Matthew was clean and sober, he was such a beautiful human being, inside and out." Since this terrible loss, she has been working to help other families going through similar experiences with their own children. And while she'll never fully get over her son's death, Eden has been appreciative of the support from her husband, her family, and friends. She also keeps herself busy with a range of work projects. One of her latest efforts is a children's book, 2021's "Barbara and the Djinn," which she co-wrote (per Page Six).