She is known for her portrayal of First Lady Abbey Bartlet in the NBC television series The West Wing; for playing Betty Rizzo in the film Grease; and for her role as Ouisa Kittredge in the play Six Degrees of Separation and its later film version.
Early Life and Education
Channing was born in New York City, the daughter of Mary Alice (née English), who came from a large Brooklyn-based Irish Catholic family, and Lester Napier Stockard (died 1960), who was in the shipping business. She grew up on the Upper East Side.
Channing is an alumna of The Madeira School, a Virginia boarding school for girls, after starting out at The Chapin School in New York City. She studied history and literature at Radcliffe College and graduated in 1965.
The West Wing
In 1999, Channing took on the role of First Lady Abbey Bartlet in the NBC television series The West Wing. She was a recurring guest star for the show’s first two seasons; she became a regular cast member in 2001. In the seventh and final season of The West Wing (2005–2006), Channing appeared in only four episodes (including the series finale) because she was co-starring (with Henry Winkler) in the CBS sitcom Out of Practice at the same time. Out of Practice was cancelled by CBS after one season.
Beyond The West Wing
Channing received several awards in 2002. She won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her work on The West Wing. That same year, she also won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress in a Television Movie or Miniseries for her portrayal of Judy Shepard in The Matthew Shepard Story, a docudrama about Matthew Shepard’s life and murder.
Channing received the 2002 London Film Critics Circle Award (ALFS) for Best Actress of the Year for her role in the film The Business of Strangers. For The Business of Strangers she was also nominated for the American Film Institute Best Actress award. In 2003, she was awarded the Women in Film Lucy Award.
In 2005, Channing won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children/Youth/Family Special for Jack (2004), a Showtime television movie about a young man struggling to understand why his father left the family for another man. Channing played Jack’s mother.
She was selected for the second narrator of the Animal Planet hit series Meerkat Manor in 2008, replacing Sean Astin, who did the first three seasons. In November 2008, she returned to Broadway as Vera Simpson in the musical Pal Joey, and was nominated for the 2009 Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.
In 2005, Channing starred in Out of Practice with Henry Winkler, with the two receiving Emmy nominations for their roles. Channing played the role of Lydia Barnes, ex-wife of Stewart Barnes (Henry Winkler), and had two sons and a lesbian daughter (Christopher Gorham, Paula Marshall, Ty Burrel, Jennifer Tilly). The show aired for one season (22 episodes).
She returned to the stage in June 2010, to Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre to play Lady Bracknell in Rough Magic Theatre Company’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Channing appeared in the play Other Desert Cities Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center and then on Broadway, as of October 2011. Channing was nominated for the Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Actress in a Play and the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for Other Desert Cities.
Channing has been married and divorced four times; she has no children. She married Walter Channing in 1963 and kept the amalgamated name “Stockard Channing” after they divorced in 1967. Her second husband was Paul Schmidt, a professor of Slavic languages (1970–76), and her third was writer-producer David Debin (1976–80). Her fourth husband was businessman David Rawle (1980–88). She has been in a relationship with cinematographer Daniel Gillham for more than 20 years; they met on the set of A Time of Destiny. The couple reside in Maine when not working.
In 2005, Channing pleaded no contest to driving under the influence and received 36 months probation.