'Brady Bunch' star Christopher Knight on why his late TV father Robert Reed was so impactful (exclusive)

It was 50 years ago that the kids of the "Brady Bunch" became a family both on- and off-screen.

Half a century later, all six of the now-grown Bradys were on hand for HGTV's "A Very Brady Renovation," where they helped to transform the real California house that served as their faux home's exterior. Throughout the four-part special, the cast reminisces about the beloved co-stars they've lost along the way.

Christopher Knight, who played middle son Peter Brady, spoke with AOL exclusively about Robert Reed, the actor who brought to life his TV dad Mike Brady. "As I would grow older, I would learn — even after his passing, looking back with adult eyes — how impactful he was," he said. "I couldn't put it into perspective until years later."

Reed, who died in 1992, had a complicated relationship with "The Brady Bunch." A trained Shakespearean actor, he was deeply frustrated with the sitcom from day one; he found the plots to be frivolous and wanted to create a more dynamic, true-to-life family program. In addition to his career agitations, he privately struggled with his sexual orientation and subsequent HIV diagnosis, which his co-stars would later say contributed to his unhappiness.

28 PHOTOS
Robert Reed through his life
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Robert Reed through his life
NEW YORK - JUNE 27: Robert Reed stars as as Kenneth Preston in the CBS television legal drama, "The Defenders." Image dated: June 27, 1963 New York, NY. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Robert Reed, circa 1965. (Photo by Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 26: THE BRADY BUNCH - Robert Reed and Florence Henderson gallery - Season One - 9/26/69, Widower Mike Brady (played by Robert Reed), the father of three sons, wed Carol (Florence Henderson), a widow with three daughters. , (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 10: Robert Reed as Mike Brady in the Brady Brunch episode, "Getting Davy Jones." Original air date, December 10, 1971. Season 3, episode 12. Image is a screen grab. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 26: THE BRADY BUNCH - The Brady men gallery - Season One - 9/26/69, WIdower Mike Brady (played by Robert Reed, right), the father of Bobby (Mike Lookinland), Peter (Christopher Knight) and Greg (Barry Williams), wed a widow with three daughters., (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 10: THE BRADY BUNCH - "Eenie Meenie, Mommy Daddy" - Season One - 10/10/69, Cindy must decide whether to take Mike (Robert Reed) or Carol to her play. , (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 09: THE BRADY BUNCH - "The Slumber Caper" - Season Two - 10/9/70, Mike (Robert Reed) and Carol (Florence Henderson) canceled Marcia's (Maureen McCormick, top center) slumber party with Karen (Carolyn Reed, Robert Reed's daughter, top left) and Ruthie (Barbara Henderson Berstein, Florence Henderson's daughter, top right) and her sisters, Jan (Eve Plumb) and Cindy (Susan Olsen)., (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 26: THE BRADY BUNCH - Robert Reed and Florence Henderson gallery - Season One - 9/26/69, Widower Mike Brady (played by Robert Reed), the father of three sons, wed Carol (Florence Henderson), a widow with three daughters. , (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 20: THE BRADY BUNCH - "Gallery" 1971-1973 Robert Reed, Florence Henderson (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 08: THE BRADY BUNCH - "The Wheeler Dealer" - Season Three - 10/8/71, Mike (Robert Reed, left) talked to Greg (Barry Williams) about the car Greg had bought. , (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 6: Florence Henderson as Carol Brady, Robert Reed as Mike Brady and Ann B. Davis as Alice Nelson in THE BRADY BUNCH episode, "The Tiki Caves." Original air date October 6, 1972. Image is a screen grab. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 29: Robert Reed as Mike Brady in THE BRADY BUNCH episode, "Pass The Tabu." Original air date September 29, 1972. Image is a screen grab. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 14: THE BRADY BUNCH - gallery - Season Five - 9/14/73, Pictured, top row: Christopher Knight (Peter), Barry Williams (Greg), Ann B. Davis (Alice); middle row: Eve Plumb (Jan), Florence Henderson (Carol), Robert Reed (Mike), Maureen McCormick (Marcia); bottom row: Susan Olsen (Cindy), Mike Lookinland (Bobby), (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
Walt Disney Television via Getty Images MOVIE FOR TV - "Nightmare In Badham County" - Airdate: November 5, 1976. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) ROBERT REED
THE BRADY BUNCH VARIETY HOUR - "Episode Title" - Airdate during November 1976- May 1977 (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) FLORENCE HENDERSON;ROBERT REED
THE BRADY BUNCH VARIETY HOUR - Airdate during November 1976- May 1977. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) ROBERT REED;FLORENCE HENDERSON
THE BRADY BUNCH VARIETY HOUR - Airdate during November 1976- May 1977. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) ROBERT REED
THE BRADY BUNCH VARIETY HOUR - Airdate during November 1976- May 1977. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) FLORENCE HENDERSON;SUSAN OLSEN;GERI REICHL;MAUREEN MCCORMICK;ROBERT REED;BARRY WILLIAMS
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 23: THE BRADY BUNCH VARIETY HOUR - 1/23-5/25/77, Florence Henderson, Robert Reed, (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 8: Actor Robert Reed attends the 31st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Creative Arts Emmy Awards on September 8, 1979 at the Exhibition Hall, Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 01: Susan Olsen, Christopher Knight, Maureen McCormick, Florence Henderson and Robert Reed (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
HOTEL - "Transitions" - Airdate: November 14, 1984. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) ROBERT REED
HOTEL - "Restless Nights" - Airdate: October 10, 1986. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) ROBERT REED
HOTEL - "Restless Nights" - Airdate: October 10, 1986. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) ROBERT REED
STUDIO CITY, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Actor Robert Reed and actress Florence Henderson attend A Salute to Sherwood Schwartz on November 1, 1987 at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Actress Florence Henderson and actor Robert Reed attending 41st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 17, 1989 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 19: Actresses Florence Henderson and Ann Davis and actor Robert Reed being photographed on the set of "Day By Day" on January 19, 1989 at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 29: Actor Robert Reed attends RP International's 18th Annual Vision Awards on June 29, 1991 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
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But while Reed famously sparred incessantly with creator Sherwood Schwartz, he had positive relationships with his castmates. Knight still vividly remembers a particular day during his early teenage years when Reed, who was directing an episode, spoke to him not as a kid but as an actor.

"Most ["Brady"] directors, for the sake of getting done on time, would have us kids line up shoulder-to-shoulder. Nothing about it was organic. It always felt a little stilted to me," Knight recalled to AOL. "But Bob Reed said to me, 'What do you see yourself doing right here?'"

Knight was stunned. "He's asking me!" he said. "I remember being taken aback — big inhale, like, he's asking me my opinion."

47 PHOTOS
'Brady Bunch' kids then and now
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'Brady Bunch' kids then and now
All the Brady kids in 1969, the very first season of the show. Clockwise top left: Maureen McCormick, Susan Olsen, Eve Plumb, Mike Lookinland, Christopher Knight and Barry Williams.
The Brady girls in 1969.
Susan Olsen as Cindy Brady, Eve Plumb as Jan Brady and Maureen McCormick as Marcia Brady in a 1972 episode.
Maureen McCormick in 1972, the height of "The Brady Bunch" popularity. She was 16 in this photo.
Maureen and Mike circa 1978, after "The Brady Bunch" was off the air.
Mauren McCormick in 1981.
Maureen McCormick in the 1990s.
Maureen McCormick and husband Michael Cummings in 1998.
Maureen McCormick in 2005.
Mauren McCormick in September 2017.
Barry Williams in a 1972 episode. He was 18 in this photo.

Christopher Knight, Maureen McCormick and Barry Williams attending the 1972 premiere of The Who's rock opera "Tommy."

Barry Williams in 2014.
Barry Williams in October 2017.
Mike Lookinland and Barry William with Eve Plumb in an early "Brady" episode.
Eve Plumb as Jan in a 1971 episode.
Eve Plumb poses for a photo in 1972, when she was 14.
Eve Plumb in 1980.
Eve Plumb in 1988.
Eve Plumb in 2009.
Eve Plumb in 2015.
Eve Plumb in July 2017.
Christopher Knight in a 1972 episode. He was 15 in this photo.
Most of the original cast reunited for "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour," which launched after the original series wrapped. Missing was Eve Plumb, who didn't want to commit to the contract. She was replaced by Geri Reischl, who fans quickly dubbed "Fake Jan."
Christopher Knight in1987 at the Los Angeles Tennis Club.
Christopher Knight in 2010.
Christopher Knight in 2012.
Florence Henderson and Christopher Knight in 2014.
Christopher Knight and Florence Henderson in 2016.
Christopher Knight in May 2017.
Robbie Rist was introduced in the final season of "The Brady Bunch" as Cousin Oliver. Producers hoped that adding a child would restore some of the youthfulness of the earlier seasons.
Robbie Rist recording for Disney Channel in recent years.
Robbie Rist in 2015.
Mike Lookinland as Bobby Brady and Susan Olsen as Cindy Brady in 1971.
Susan Olsen as Cindy Brady in 1973. She famously no longer wanted to wear pigtails on the show as she got older but was met with resistance from producers.
Susan and Maureen in the 1980s.
Florence Henderson and Susan Olsen in the 1990s.
Florence and Susan in 2016.
Susan Olsen and Barry Williams in 2008.
Susan Olsen in 2009.
Maureen McCormick and Susan Olsen in the mid 2000s.
Mike Lookinland in 1971.
Christopher Knight and Mike Lookinland in 1972.
Ann B. Davis, Robert Reed, Florence Henderson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Maureen McCormick, Christopher Knight and Mike Lookinland in 1989.
Mike Lookinland, Susan Olsen, Kelly Ripa, Barry Williams, Christopher Knight, Florence Henderson and Maureen McCormick in 2007.
Mike Lookinland in 2007 during the 5th Annual TV Land Awards.
Barry Williams, Christopher Knight, Mike Lookinland and Susan Olsen in May 2017.
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Schwartz only occasionally allowed Reed to direct episodes: "Of course, Bob's episodes were notoriously late, because they were more artistic," Knight said. "But as a young kid who hadn't gotten this at home, that my point of view had validity and should be part of the equation, something that hadn't been gifted me by my own parents yet in my own world ... And I sure did have an opinion, and he figured out how to shoot it."

He added, "It riveted me that day, working with Bob."

Reed never publicly came out, and his death at 59 was initially attributed to colon cancer. It was later revealed that his HIV-positive status significantly accelerated his passing. Florence Henderson, who played Carol Brady, would speak candidly about her on-screen husband a few years later, in 2000.

"Here he was, the perfect father of this wonderful little family, a perfect husband. Off camera, he was an unhappy person – I think had Bob not been forced to live this double life, I think it would have dissipated a lot of that anger and frustration," she told ABC News. "I never asked him. I never challenged him. I had a lot of compassion for him because I knew how he was suffering with keeping this secret."

The blue-walled bedroom that Mike and Carol Brady shared is among the rooms that are recreated "A Very Brady Renovation," which airs its third episode Monday night on HGTV.

RELATED: Watch an exclusive clip from "A Very Brady Renovation"

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