NEW YORK—Mary Tyler Moore, the star of TV’s beloved “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” whose comic realism helped revolutionize the depiction of women on the small screen, died Wednesday. She was 80.
Moore gained fame in the 1960s as the frazzled wife Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. In the 1970s, she created one of TV’s first career-woman sitcom heroines in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
“She was an impressive person and a talented person and a beautiful person. A force of nature,” producer, creator and director Carl Reiner, who created the The Dick Van Dyke Show, told The Associated Press. “She’ll last forever, as long as there’s television. Year after year, we’ll see her face in front of us.”
Moore won seven Emmy awards over the years and was nominated for an Oscar for her 1980 portrayal of an affluent mother whose son is accidentally killed in Ordinary People.
Tributes came pouring in. “Mary’s energy, spirit and talent created a new bright spot in the television landscape and she will be very much missed,” Robert Redford, director of Ordinary People, said in a statement. Ellen DeGeneres took to Twitter to say: “Mary Tyler Moore changed the world for all women.”
Moore’s first major TV role was on the classic sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, in which she played the young homemaker wife of Van Dyke’s character, comedy writer Rob Petrie, from 1961-66.
With her unerring gift for comedy, Moore seemed perfectly fashioned to the smarter wit of the new, post-Eisenhower age. As Laura, she traded in the housedress of countless sitcom wives for Capri pants that were as fashionable as they were suited to a modern American woman.
Laura was a dream wife and mother, but not perfect. Viewers identified with her flustered moments and her protracted, plaintive cry to her husband: “Ohhhh, Robbbb!”
Moore’s chemistry with Van Dyke was unmistakable. Decades later, he spoke warmly of the chaste but palpable off-screen crush they shared during the show’s run.
They also appeared together in several TV specials over the years and in 2003, co-starred in a PBS production of the play “The Gin Game.”
But it was as Mary Richards, the plucky Minneapolis TV news producer on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77), that Moore truly made her mark.
At a time when women’s liberation was catching on worldwide, her character brought to TV audiences an independent, 1970s career woman. Other than Marlo Thomas’ 1960s sitcom character That Girl, who at least had a steady boyfriend, there were few precedents.
Thomas on Wednesday called Moore a gifted actress and a wonderful comedian. “I’m proud that we were in that groundbreaking sorority that brought single independent women to television,” Thomas said in a statement.
Mary Richards was comfortable being single in her 30s, and while she dated, she wasn’t desperate to get married. She sparred affectionately with her gruff boss, Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner, and addressed him always as “Mr. Grant.” And millions agreed with the show’s theme song that she could “turn the world on with her smile.”
Asner paid tribute to his co-star, saying on Twitter: “A great lady I loved and owe so much has left us. I will miss her. I will never be able to repay her for the blessings that she gave me.”
The show was filled with laughs. But no episode was more memorable than the bittersweet finale when new management fired the entire WJM News staff—everyone but the preening, clueless anchorman, Ted Baxter. Thus did the series dare to question whether Mary Richards actually did “make it after all.”
The series ran seven seasons and won 29 Emmys, a record that stood for a quarter century until Frasier broke it in 2002.
“Everything I did was by the seat of the pants. I reacted to every written situation the way I would have in real life,” Moore told The Associated Press in 1995. “My life is inextricably intertwined with Mary Richards’, and probably always will be.”
The Mary Tyler Moore Show spawned the spin-offs Rhoda, (1974-78), starring Valerie Harper; Phyllis (1975-77), starring Cloris Leachman; and Lou Grant (1977-82), starring Asner in a rare drama spun off from a comedy.
“Mary Tyler Moore” was the first in a series of acclaimed, award-winning shows she produced with her second husband, Grant Tinker, who died in November 2016, through their MTM Enterprises. (The meowing kitten at the end of the shows was a parody of the MGM lion.) The Bob Newhart Show, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere and WKRP in Cincinnati are among the MTM series that followed.
Moore won her seventh Emmy in 1993, for supporting actress in a miniseries or special, for a Lifetime network movie, “Stolen Babies.” She had won two for The Dick Van Dyke Show and the other four for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In 2012, Moore received the Screen Actors Guild’s lifetime achievement award.
On the big screen, Moore’s appearances were less frequent. She was a 1920s flapper in the hit 1967 musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and a nun who falls for Elvis Presley in Change of Habit in 1969.
She turned to serious drama in 1980’s Ordinary People, playing an affluent, bitter mother who loses a son in an accident. The film won the Oscar for best picture and best director for Robert Redford, and it earned Moore an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe.
“She was a truly amazing person, a great friend, and an inspiration to all,” Timothy Hutton, her Ordinary People co-star, said in a statement. “I will always be grateful for her kindness and thankful beyond words for knowing her. She will be missed greatly.”
In real life, Moore also endured personal tragedy. The same year Ordinary People came out, her only child, Richard, who’d had trouble in school and with drugs, accidentally shot himself at 24. Her younger sister, Elizabeth, died at 21 from a combination of painkillers and alcohol.
In her 1995 autobiography After All, Moore admitted she helped her terminally ill brother try to commit suicide by feeding him ice cream laced with a deadly overdose of drugs. The attempt failed, and her 47-year-old brother, John, died three months later in 1992 of kidney cancer.
Moore herself lived with juvenile diabetes for some 40 years and told of her struggle in her 2009 book, Growing Up Again. She also spent five weeks at the Betty Ford Clinic in 1984 for alcohol abuse.
She served as chairwoman of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International, supported embryonic stem cell research and was active in animal rights causes.
In 1983, Moore married cardiologist Robert Levine, who survives her. Her marriage to Tinker lasted from 1962 to 1981. Before that, she was married to Dick Meeker from 1955 to 1961.
Moore was born in 1936 in Brooklyn; the family moved to California when she was around 8 years old. She began dance lessons as a child and launched her career while still in her teens, appearing in TV commercials.
In 1992, Moore received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A decade later, a life-size bronze statue went on display in Minneapolis, depicting her tossing her trademark tam into the air as she did in the opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.