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Stage, film, TV actress Heckart dies at 82

Award-winning thesp won Emmy, Oscar, and Tony

NEW YORK — Eileen Heckart, the Oscar-winning drama and comedy actress, died of cancer Monday at her home in Norwalk, Conn. She was 82.

Heckart created the stage role of a blind man’s domineering mother in “Butterflies Are Free” in 1969 and repeated it in the ’72 movie starring Goldie Hawn and Edward Albert. She won the supporting actress Oscar for the perf.

Heckart, who had a smoky voice and a toothsome smile, also was well known for her television appearances as Mary Richards’ Aunt Flo — a globe-trotting reporter — on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Apart from the Oscar for best supporting actress, Heckart won three Emmys and in 2000 received a special lifetime achievement Tony Award. In interviews over the years, Heckart said her heart belonged to the stage.

She performed in the Broadway plays “Picnic” (1953) and “The Bad Seed” (1955); she received an Oscar nom when she re-created the latter role in the film. In 1965, she created the role of the disapproving mother in the Broadway production of “Barefoot in the Park.”

Farewell appearance

Her last stage appearance was in Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery,” as a woman with Alzheimer’s. In a review, Daily Variety said, “As a woman descending by degrees into senility, Heckart gives a meticulous, truthful and utterly unsentimental performance, perfectly depicting a feisty, intelligent woman’s loosening grasp on her faculties.” However, citing her age, Heckart announced she would not perform onstage after that show’s run in 2000.

She got her start in the theater in 1943 as understudy and assistant stage manager of “Voice of the Turtle.”

She made her television debut in 1947, appearing in early live drama series such as “Kraft Suspense Theater” and “Philco Playhouse.”

‘Miracle’ debut

Heckart made her film debut in 1956 in “Miracle in the Rain,” and appeared the same year in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” and as Marilyn Monroe’s actress friend in “Bus Stop.”

She twice portrayed Eleanor Roosevelt, having toured in 1976 with her one-woman show “Eleanor” and then playing the first lady in the 1979 miniseries “Backstairs at the White House.” Her perf presented a different Roosevelt: smart and even a bit sexy.

Heckart was born Anna Eileen Heckart in Columbus, Ohio, on March 29, 1919. Her parents separated when she was 2 years old and she lived with her mother, who married five times.

Heckart is survived by three sons. Two live in Connecticut and the other in Los Angeles. Her husband, John Harrison Yankee Jr., to whom she was married 53 years, died in 1997.

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