Meredith Baxter, on 'Oprah,' Calls Girlfriend the 'Healthiest Relationship I Ever Had'

Actress Meredith Baxter tells co-star Michael Gross, "I was afraid."

ByABC News
December 2, 2009, 10:58 AM

March 2, 2011 — -- Meredith Baxter led a "secret life" as an emotionally abused wife for years before learning she was gay and entering "the healthiest relationship I have ever had," the star of the '80s show, "Family Ties," told Oprah Winfrey today while holding the hand of her lesbian partner.

Baxter, 63, also joined by her former television co-star, Michael Gross, and her children, appeared on "Oprah" to discuss her allegedly abusive marriage and what led her to discover she was gay.

"I was a very conventional girl," she told Winfrey. "I was raised in a household where my mother got married and I thought that was what you did."

When she first learned she was a lesbian in 2002, Baxter said, "It didn't scare me and I don't know why I wasn't confused about it."

"I felt alive in way I had not experienced, and life was rife with possibilities," she said. "OK, I'm ready."

Baxter and her partner, general contractor Nancy Locke, 54, have lived together since 2005.

But for 15 years, Baxter alleges in her new book, "Untied," her husband, David Birney, was physically and emotionally abusive, a charge that Birney, now 71, steadfastly has denied.

The couple co-starred in the 1970s show "Bridget Loves Birney." They divorced in 1989.

"Nobody knew. It was a secret life," said Baxter. "Nobody knew on the show at all because it was important for me to maintain some separation."

Baxter said that she turned to alcohol to numb the pain, driving home from the set of "Family Ties" with a tumbler full of wine.

"Reckless. Crazed and reckless and unmindful of anybody else," Baxter said of her behavior. "I was so caught up on my own hurt, and I deserved this because everything else is so horrible. I don't know what I was saying to myself but I was so angry."

Gross, who played Baxter's husband on "Family Ties" and sat by her side on "Oprah," said that for the first six years of the television show nobody knew anything.

Baxter eventually had a breakdown while Birney was working in Europe, she said.

"I was standing backstage rehearsing a sequence," she said. "Out of nowhere, [Michael Gross] said, 'David comes home soon.'"

"I burst into tears and he said, 'Oh, you must miss him so much," said Baxter. "I totally lost it."

"I was so afraid of him and he was coming back," she said, crying.

"I didn't know what she meant at the time," said Gross. "She and David were the poster child for a marriage going well. We didn't know because she kept her mouth shut."

"It was the first time that I kind of unloaded and told him everything that had been going on," said Baxter.