Growing up in Seattle as the second of four children, Jean Smart was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 13. She says that she learned to give herself insulin injections very quickly after receiving her diagnosis. She gained an interest in acting during high school, and graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. in fine arts. After college, she performed on stages all over the Pacific Northwest before trying her luck in New York City in 1980. After performing in a variety of off-Broadway plays as well as a couple minor stints in TV, Smart received her big break when she was cast as Charlene in the hit series Designing Women.
Feeling constrained in her role on Designing Women, Smart left the show in 1991. During the 1990s, she was cast mainly in made-for-tv movies, such as Overkill: The Aileen Wuornos Story, and in smaller film roles. Her career made a major turn-around in 2000 when she was cast in the hit comedy Frasier. Her role on the show earned her back-to-back Emmys for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2000 and 2001. In 2001, Smart also earned a Tony for her performance in The Man Who Came to Dinner and an Emmy nomination for her work in the drama series The District.
Soon after, Smart landed roles in several high-profile movies, such as Sweet Home Alabama and Garden State. She continued to work in television, providing the voice of Pickles Oblong on The Oblongs and Dr. Ann Possible in Kim Possible. In 2006, Smart joined the hit TV thriller, 24, playing the mentally unstable wife of President Charles Logan. Her work was critically acclaimed and earned her two consecutive Emmy nominations in 2006 and 2007. Her role as an overbearing mother in the comedy series Samantha Who? earned her an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in 2008. She can currently be seen on television screens as Hawaii Gov. Pat Jameson in the remake of Hawaii Five-O.
Jean Smart is married to actor Richard Gilliland, with whom she has a son, Connor. The couple adopted a baby girl from China in 2009. In addition to her busy acting career, Smart also dedicates herself to raising public awareness about and fund-raising for diabetes. She is an ambassador for the Entertainment Industry’s Diabetes Aware, which is designed to raise awareness about the disease. She is also involved in the Alzheimer’s Association, having lost her father to the disease.