Mary Tyler Moore, TV Icon, Dies at 80

Mary Tyler Moore Dead: TV Icon
Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Television great Mary Tyler Moore, the beloved star of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” died Wednesday in Connecticut, her publicist confirmed. She was 80.

“Today, beloved icon, Mary Tyler Moore, passed away at the age of 80 in the company of friends and her loving husband of over 33 years, Dr. S. Robert Levine,” read the statement from Mara Buxbaum, her longtime rep. “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.”

The vivacious brunette performer transformed the image of women on television first as Van Dyke’s sexy, vulnerable wife Laura Petrie and then as single career girl Mary Richards in her own series. Her work in the two series brought Moore five Emmy Awards, in 1965, 1966, 1973, 1974 and 1976. She won another Emmy for 1993 TV special “Stolen Babies.”

Moore was also a powerhouse producer via her MTM production company with then-husband Grant Tinker, producing her own series as well as “The Bob Newhart Show” and spinoff series “Rhoda” and “Lou Grant,” among others.

She combined wholesomeness and sex appeal with cracker-jack comedic timing. In many ways Moore was a throwback to Hollywood golden era leading ladies like Myrna Loy and Jean Arthur, but with a decidedly updated twist.

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Her role as Laura Petrie, the suburban wife of comedy writer Rob Petrie, also represented a step forward for the portrayal of women on television. Though they maintained separate beds, the Petries otherwise shared an active, romantic marital life. And unlike Desi Arnaz on “I Love Lucy,” Van Dyke’s character was not threatened by his wife’s talents or her intelligence.

The series made Moore a star, and she worked on films under contract at Universal. With the exception of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” in which she played third fiddle to Julie Andrews and the scene-stealing Carol Channing, the studio’s attempts to fashion her in the Doris Day mold was unsuccessful. Moore also tried her hand at the Broadway stage, co-starring with Richard Chamberlain in David Merrick’s musical version of Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

With the help of her second husband, producer Tinker, and the talents of creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, she fashioned a new series, “Mary Tyler Moore,” which debuted on CBS in 1970 and revolutionized the sitcom. Even more than the Van Dyke show, it focused heavily on the central character’s work life.

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And in this case the central character was a single woman, Mary Richards, carving out a life for herself in Minneapolis. Moore was the pragmatic and delightfully vulnerable center of a strong ensemble cast that included Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Betty White, and Ted Knight. “Mary Tyler Moore” raked in the accolades during its run and thereafter was a permanent fixture in television syndication.

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” won the Emmy for comedy show three years in a row, was named as one of the most influential TV shows of all time on numerous lists, and was one of the first shows to tackle issues including equal pay for women, divorce, infidelity, homosexuality, premarital sex, and infertility. Moore’s character even recovers from an addiction to sleeping pills during the show.

Leslie Moonves, chairman and CEO of CBS Corporation, said in a statement on Wednesday: “Mary Tyler Moore was a once-in-a-generation talent. She will be long remembered as a gifted actress, television pioneer and a role model to so many. CBS has lost one of the very best to ever grace our airwaves and our industry has lost a true legend and friend.”

After “Mary Tyler Moore,” which Moore retired after seven seasons, she tried other series including sitcom “Mary,” variety hour “The Mary Tyler Moore Hour” and “New York News,” another attempt to recapture the magic of her landmark ’70s TV series. There was even an effort to reunite her with Harper, her Rhoda sidekick on “Mary Tyler Moore,” starting with a TV movie, “Mary and Rhoda.”

The actress finally snared a role that challenged her abilities in Robert Redford’s Oscar-winning directorial debut, 1980’s “Ordinary People.” She played completely against type as a stern, cold matriarch, living in denial after the death of her favorite son. The beautifully wrought performance brought her an Oscar nomination. Then in the mid ’90s she was again offered a film role, supporting this time, that displayed her range: As a neurotic, overbearing Jewish mother in “Flirting With Disaster,” Moore was hilarious in a completely different way than in any of her TV comedy appearances.

Moore also returned to Broadway stage, finding some success in the drama “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” and taking home a special Tony for her performance. She also appeared on the Rialto in A.R. Gurney’s “Sweet Sue” in 1987.

On TV, she carved a niche for herself in TV movies, most notably the breast cancer tale “First You Cry” and the miniseries “Lincoln,” in which she played Mary Todd Lincoln. She drew Emmy nominations for both. There was also “Finnegan Begin Again,” “Heartsounds” and “Just Between Friends,” which brought her good reviews and award recognition.

Moore continued in TV movies during the 2000s, including the sentimental “Miss Lettie and Me,” and she guested on series including “That ’70s Show,” “Lipstick Jungle” and, in 2011, “Hot in Cleveland,” where she reunited with her “Mary Tyler Moore Show” co-star Betty White. There was also a reunion show, 2004’s “The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited,” in which she participated.

In 1983, after almost 20 years of marriage, Moore separated from Tinker, who had gone on to run NBC and sold to her his share in MTM Enterprises, which she subsequently sold. The company had been very successful with several spinoffs from the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” as well as other hit series like “Hill Street Blues” and “WKRP in Cincinnati.”

Moore was born in Brooklyn but grew up in Los Angeles, where she attended Immaculate Heart High School and married Richard Meeker at age 18. She broke into performing through television commercials, memorably as the Hotpoint elf on “The Ozzie and Harriet Show” in the mid-’50s. Her first regular TV assignment was on the TV series “Richard Diamond, Private Detective” in 1959 as the urbane investigator’s assistant, though only her legs and hands were visible onscreen. It led to guest spots on such series as “77 Sunset Strip” and “Hawaiian Eye.”

Moore had been interviewed by Danny Thomas to play his daughter on the series “Make Room for Daddy,” and he remembered her and recommended her to Carl Reiner when he was casting “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” After a shaky start in 1961, the sitcom afforded Moore the chance to show off her comedic gifts and sometimes even her song-and-dance abilities.

The actress penned two memoirs. In “After All,” released in 1995, she acknowledged that she was an alcoholic; “Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes” (2009) centers on living with type 1 diabetes. Moore had been diagnosed with diabetes in her 20s and was a tireless crusader for the disease via the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

In May 2002, cabler TV Land unveiled a statue in downtown Minneapolis of the character Moore made famous on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” The statue depicts the iconic moment in the show’s opening credits in which Mary throws her tam o’shanter in the air. Moore was present for the ceremony.

Moore received the SAG lifetime achievement award in 2012 from Dick Van Dyke.

In 1980, her only son Richard (by first husband Meeker) died accidentally from a gunshot wound at the age of 24.

Moore is survived by her third husband, Dr. S. Robert Levine, whom she married in 1983. Tinker died in November.

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  1. No words could ever express my sadness in just now learning about the death of one of TV’S GREATEST ALL TIME ACTRESSES / COMEDIENNE’S. I’ve seen every single tv series, movie and Broadway Player Ms. Moore has ever been in, and as she takes her Final Bow before our Lord, There’s just one thing I’d like to say, “BRAVO “. REST IN PARADISE YOU WONDERFUL WONDERFUL WOMAN & & Keep Turning Heaven on With Your Smile.

  2. Don Stone says:

    Mary Tyler Moore also was the secretary to TV show “Richard Diamond” starring David Jansen. Only her legs were photographed as she strolled across the office of Richard Diamond taking shorthand.

  3. In addition to her other accolades, Mary Tyler Moore was also recognized with a Peabody Award in 1977. As the judges noted: “Mary Tyler Moore Enterprises has established the benchmark by which all situation comedies must be judged.” Peabody is the leading organization for honoring, and extending the conversation around, the most important stories of the year.

  4. CAROL says:

    Only yesterday afternoon, 3pm est, MTM popped into my mind — just like that. 12 hrs later, I read of her death on BBC app. She was a great actress, and will be very missed by all of us who love DVDyke Show, & much of her other work. I designed my 1st home fireplace from that show, & many of us remember how we all wanted to be a MTM-type of housewife. God bless her family, & all those precious stars who worked with her on DVD & MTM shows. You are ALL in my prayers. My sympathies ❤ heartfelt, to you. xoxo

  5. Mary Tyler Moore paved the way for women to make their mark in history.
    She made us all a better people.

    George Vreeland Hill

  6. Another Poster says:

    The best 3 hours of television on one network in one night has to be CBS Saturday night 1973 – 1974, 8 – 11; All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show.
    Rest in peace Mary Tyler Moore! A groundbreaking pioneer very talented individual who had brains, beauty, and drive. A legend in her own time and one that will be remembered for a long time to come.

  7. cadavra says:

    A note of clarification–the network censors of the day decreed that all married couples should sleep in twin beds to avoid even the slightest hint of sexual activity. It certainly was not the show’s choice to do so.

  8. Ivan says:

    It takes a very special talent to make everyone fall in love with you. Mary had it in spades.

    • I agree 150% with you Ivan, I’m so devastated over this, as I’m still crying reading everyone’s comments about all of her accomplishments… But yours just stuck out to me. Have an amazing life.
      Flo

  9. BillUSA says:

    When I was a boy in the 1960’s – really, I was young once believe it or not – there were three actresses I had a crush on; Barbara Stanwyk, Florence Henderson and Mary Tyler Moore. I used to watch “The Dick Van Dyke Show” religiously just to see Mary. As I grew a little older, I really liked her in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” not only because she was so beautiful, but the program was so hilarious.

    Farewell, my lovely. Rest in peace forever.

    My heartfelt condolences to her family.

  10. Kevin says:

    As a husky-ish, little boy, I had a major crush on Mary Tyler Moore since the first rime I saw her play Laura
    way back when on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”. This may sound weird, but one of my favorite things about
    Mary was that she was one of the all-time great funny criers among comedic actresses. She held sway in
    a club that included the late, great Lucille Ball and the iconic Carol Burnett of very gifted performers who could artfully build up to a pitifully hysterical weeping that was downright laugh-out-loud funny.
    We’ve now lost two of the three legendary one-woman cottage industries responsible for challenging and
    ultimately changing Hollywood’s “white men only club” hierarchy that had existed for so many decades in movies and television. That is until these extremely funny and multi-talented women-who also just happened
    to be exceptionally smart and fearlessly driven-eventually declared “Screw that!” And once again we have Lucy, followed by Mary and soon after came Carol, who not only starred in their own shows, but helmed production concerns that made it possible for a good many other women and racial minorities to eventually do the same.
    Losing yet another iconic or legendary celebrity who has been so much a part of my fondest memories and best times-especially after the heartbreak of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds passing away only one day apart-is utterly depressing. Rest well now, sweet ladies. No more pain or worries-it’s all joy and smiles.

  11. Alex says:

    This is so sad I want to put my fist thru a wall

  12. gabe says:

    protect betty white

  13. richard kaufman says:

    The ensemble on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was extraordinary. Unfortunately today’s article in Variety failed mention Gavin MacLeod, who played Murray Slaughter on the show. Perhaps the writer of the article never actually saw the show, but each member of the remarkable cast played a part in the tremendous success of the series, and Gavin MacLeod was certainly a key member of that group.

  14. JD says:

    Rest In Peace, Mary. You were a true class act

  15. Ken says:

    Brilliant in “Ordinary People”. Forever in my heart as Laura Petrie. Rest in Peace, sweet lady.

  16. Alex Meyer says:

    RIP

  17. Chris says:

    As a person with Type 1 diabetes I will always appreciate her tireless efforts to help find a cure. That and the happiness she brought me watching The Mary Tyler Moore show on Saturday nights with my family in the 1970s.

  18. WingsofCrystal says:

    Thank you so much Mary for the joy you brought us. Rest in peace.

  19. MARK DEMOS says:

    Love was, is, and always will be, when it comes to Mary Tyler Moore….

  20. Joanne S says:

    Lovely Mary, rest in peace. You’ll be missed.

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