Mary Tyler Moore, the iconic actress who starred in two of the most influential television series of all time, has died at a Greenwich, Connecticut hospital. She was 80 and had battled diabetes for decades. Her family announced that the cause of death was a heart attack after she had contracted pneumonia.
“A groundbreaking actress, producer, and passionate advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Mary will be remembered as a fearless visionary who turned the world on with her smile,” her publicist Mara Buxbaum said Wednesday.
“Not only was she a total pro, she was the most gracious, the most selfless person. She had no petty envy and was giving to everyone in the cast. And she worked hard.” — Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg
Moore had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 33, around the start of her run on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the multiple-award winning program about a young journalist working in the newsroom of a Minneapolis TV station. The series won a then-record 29 Emmys including three consecutive Outstanding Comedy Series nods from 1975-77. Moore also won three Lead Actress in a Comedy Emmys for the show. She would win a total of seven Emmys during her career, garnering 15 nominations.
Moore had been working in television for several years before she got her big break playing Laura Petrie, the smart, attractive, funny and slightly neurotic wife of Dick Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie, a smart, attractive, funny and more than slightly neurotic television comedy writer on the hugely successful Dick Van Dyke Show, which was created by Carl Reiner and ran for 158 episodes from 1961-66 on CBS, landing the primetime top 10 for three of those seasons. Moore won a pair of Emmys for that role.
But that proved just a run-up to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, and which ran on CBS from 1970-77. Moore’s Mary Richards was a single professional woman who had ambition as a serious journalist, a mixed record with men and an endearing student-mentor relationship with her boss, the curmudgeonly (often mock-curmudgeonly) Lou Grant, played by Edward Asner. The MTM Show ranked in the primetime top 10 for three consecutive seasons.
Produced by MTM Enterprises, the company she founded with her husband at the time — legendary TV executive Grant Tinker, who died in November — The Mary Tyler Moore Show helped set a high standard for sitcoms of an era in which the role of TV women as more than suburban housewives was being re-invented. Moore also appeared in Rhoda, a spinoff about Mary Richard’s best friend, played by Valerie Harper.
In 2012, the WGA released its list of 101 Best Written TV Series, and it ranked Mary Tyler Moore at No. 6 and Dick Van Dyke at 14.
Like Mary Richards, Moore also had serious ambitions, as an actress capable of moving beyond comedy. In 1980 she starred opposite Donald Sutherland and Judd Hirsch in Ordinary People, Robert Redford’s drama about a family struggling in the aftermath of a son’s death. It won four Oscars, including Best Picture, and Moore was nominated for her performance. Her other notable credits included Just Between Friends (1986) and, with Van Dyke, a TV film of D.L. Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Gin Game. There were also reunions of the earlier sitcoms.
Moore was born in Brooklyn, NY, grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, and lived in Manhattan for the last decades of her life. In 1966 she was cast as Holly Golightly in a musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, adapted by the late Edward Albee and Bob Merrill. The show also starred Richard Chamberlain and Sally Kellerman. The show’s producer, the famously blunt David Merrick, shut down the production after four Broadway previews, “rather than subject the drama critics and the public to an excruciatingly boring evening,” he said at the time.
MTM had a more auspicious Broadway debut in 1980, when she appeared as a sculptor who becomes paraplegic after a car accident, and who wishes to end her life, in Brian Clark’s Whose Life Is It, Anyway? The role had been created by Tom Conti; two months after closing, it reopened with Moore as the hospital bed-bound character who insists, with humor and determination, on the right to end her life.
She earned excellent reviews. In The New York Times, critic Walter Kerr described her performance as “accomplished and finally quite moving…The mockery at which Tom Conti so excelled in the play’s original production remains present with a vengeance. Trapped in her sheeted bed under the cold and clinical hospital lights, Miss Moore has made do with exceedingly expressive eyes, a mouth ready-made for any number of Huck Finn grimaces, and a habit of tossing her head in mighty circles when she wants to assert authority over the authorities. Miss Moore is good on upmanship.”
“She wanted to come back to Broadway after the Breakfast at Tiffany’s disaster, and she wanted to return to New York,” Emanuel Azenberg, who produced Whose Life Is It, told Deadline in a telephone interview. “She saw Tom Conti and said, ‘I’ll play that part.’ We had it rewritten for her, and she came to the first rehearsal letter perfect — no book. Not only was she a total pro, she was the most gracious, the most selfless person. She had no petty envy and was giving to everyone in the cast. And she worked hard.”
MTM was involved in sporadic Broadway producing during the rest of the decade, and Moore’s second and final Broadway show was the title role of A.R. Gurney’s Sweet Sue, in which she played opposite the late Lynn Redgrave.
Moore received SAG’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 and was honored with a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992. She is survived by her second husband, Dr. Robert Levine.
Moore told the Archive of American Television in a 1997 interview: “My grandfather once said, having watched me one entire afternoon, prancing and leaping and cavorting, ‘this child will either end up on stage or in jail.’ Fortunately, I took the easy route.” Here’s a clip of her interview in which Moore talks about filming the finale of The Mary Tyler Moore Show: