It was a rare sighting. On October 14, Delta Burke, dressed in a flowy blue shirt and black pants, was spotted running errands in Los Angeles, Calif. With her face partly obscured by dark sunglasses and a mask, the former TV star held a cane as she made her way to a Range Rover.
"Delta does get out by herself occasionally," an insider exclusively tells OK! about the actress, who retreated from the spotlight amid personal and professional problems in the early 1990s after skyrocketing to fame on the hit series Designing Women. "She's moving more slowly these days, but she still smiles at people who recognize her on the street."
Despite occasional guest spots in television shows and the odd appearance at an awards ceremony with her husband of 31 years, actor Gerald McRaney, Burke has been keeping a low profile for two decades. But the insider tells OK! the 64-year-old is getting ready to lift the lid on everything from on-set feuds and her addiction issues to her weight struggles and the crippling depression that landed her in a psychiatric hospital.
"Delta disappeared from Hollywood because the industry and the people in it were becoming detrimental to her health," reveals the insider. "Now she's older, wiser and in a good place. She finally feels ready to break her silence."
By the time she was cast as sassy Suzanne Sugarbaker on Designing Women in 1986, Burke was already struggling to maintain the perfect figure. Desperate, she turned to crystal meth to stay slim. "She lost weight because she wasn't hungry," says the insider, "but meth is very addicting and dangerous." When she finally kicked the habit, the pounds piled on. "She ballooned to more than 200 pounds, and that didn't sit well with producers on the show," the insider adds. "They bullied her over it."
That wasn't the only behind-the-scenes drama going on. According to the insider, when Burke became the breakout star of the hit CBS sitcom (she was nominated for two Emmys), her costars — including Dixie Carter, Annie Potts and Jean Smart — turned on her.
"They seemed so jealous of all the attention she got, especially Dixie," says the insider. "It was a very competitive set, and when Delta gained weight, she was fat-shamed mercilessly."
The experience was a complete nightmare. In 1990, Burke went public with charges that she had been psychologically abused by the show's executive producers — who then countered and said it was the actress who was stirring up trouble. Burke was fired soon after.
"Of course, Delta was upset, but she was also relieved not to be on set anymore," says the insider. "She couldn't continue living like that."
Burke soon spiraled into a deep depression. She was yo-yoing dramatically. "Her weight went up and down so much it was hard to keep track," says the insider. "She'd lose 65 pounds and then gain it back and stay in bed all day eating junk food."
In 1997, she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She began hoarding as a way to cope with stress and later admitted to having 27 storage units filled with magazines, clothes and dinner rolls.
"She would buy stuff on impulse," says the insider. "Furniture, knickknacks and tacky art she'd found at the secondhand store." Fertility issues made things worse. "Delta and Gerald tried to have a baby, but she couldn't get pregnant. She felt incredibly guilty, and that contributed to her depression," says the insider.
Her family was eventually forced to take her to a psychiatric ward. Adds the insider, "Delta's said it was the lowest point of her life. Thankfully her loved ones got to her in time."
All the while, husband McRaney, 73, has been her rock. "He loves me no matter what," she has said of the This Is Us actor. But their unconventional union has raised eyebrows over the years. "They've spent the majority of their marriage living in different cities," says the insider. "Gerald likes to do his own thing. He's seen as a macho guy who works hard and likes to unwind over a beer or two at the local pub with the crew."
At one point in the late '90s, the couple were living 1,700 miles apart, with McRaney staying in Utah for his TV show Promised Land and Delta preferring to remain at their home in New Orleans' French Quarter.
"When Gerald's with Delta, he treats her like a real Southern lady. He's very protective and he spoils her," the insider explains. "But he's also a man's man who likes his independence and the rugged outdoors, while Delta shuns the sun."
The insider adds that the former beauty queen gives McRaney freedom, and he accepts her the way she is. "He has never stopped supporting her," continues the insider, "even when he was miles away on a set, and that's why they've lasted this long."
These days, Burke is happy with her life away from prying eyes and criticism. "She's a little heavier but she's finally learned to accept herself," says the insider. Apart from a role here or there, she has embraced her quiet anonymity.
"She and Gerald have been living in L.A. for a few years now, and it's actually the longest stretch they've been together in the same city," reveals the insider.
"Delta's the most content she's ever been, and that's another reason why she wants to share her story."