×

Katherine Helmond, ‘Who’s the Boss?’ and ‘Soap’ Star, Dies at 89

Emmy-nominated actress Katherine Helmond, best known for her role on “Who’s the Boss?,” died on Feb. 23 at her Los Angeles home due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. She was 89.

The star, whose career spanned more than five decades, played matriarch Jessica Tate on Billy Crystal’s primetime soap sitcom, aptly titled “Soap,” which ran from 1977 to 1981. She nabbed four actress Emmy nominations for the role. Helmond portrayed another famous mom, saucy Mona Robinson, in another ABC hit series, “Who’s the Boss?” (1984–1992). The role landed her two supporting actress Emmy noms.

Katherine Helmond Dead Who's The Boss

Helmond also had a recurring roles as Doris Sherman on ABC’s “Coach” (1995-1997), opposite Craig T. Nelson and Jerry Van Dyke, and as Debra Barone’s mother Lois Whelan, alongside Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton, on CBS’ massive hit “Everybody Loves Raymond” (1996-2004).

Born on Galveston Island in Texas on July 5, 1929, Katherine Marie Helmond was the only child of Joseph and Thelma Helmond. Her father was a fireman and her mother a housewife. Her parents divorced a few years after she was born, and she was raised in a strict Roman Catholic tradition by her mother and grandmother.

In addition to her TV work, the veteran actress also took Broadway by storm. She was nominated for a Tony in 1973 for her performance in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Great God Brown.” She also appeared in the plays “Private Lives,” “Don Juan,” and “Mixed Emotions.”

On the film front, Helmond was a regular collaborator of Monty Python director Terry Gilliam, starring in three of his films, namely “Time Bandits” (1981), “Brazil” (1985), and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1998). Helmond’s casting in “Time Bandits” wasn’t exactly conventional, as she got the part only after Gilliam’s original choice for the role, Ruth Gordon, broke her leg while shooting a Clint Eastwood movie.

In “Brazil,” Helmond played the cosmetic surgery-addicted mother to Jonathan Pryce’s central character. Gilliam is said to have called her up to offer her the part, saying, “I have a part for you, and I want you to come over and do it, but you’re not going to look very nice in it.” Sure enough, she spent several hours a day with her face covered in a mask, which caused her to develop blisters.

Despite many difficult times on set, Helmond “never fell out of love” with acting.

“I felt I blossomed as a person when I got a chance to act,” she said. “It’s been like an incredible marriage that really worked. I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Her other major films include a gravestone-kicking character in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Family Plot” (1976), and the haughty Edith Mintz, who at one point threatens to castrate the main character played by Edward Herrmann, in Garry Marshall’s “Overboard” (1987). More recently, Helmond voiced the Ford Model T Lizzie in Disney/Pixar’s three “Cars” films.

Her “Who’s the Boss?” co-star Judith Light described Helmond as a “gift to our business and to the world” in a statement.

“Katherine Helmond was a remarkable human being and an extraordinary artist; generous, gracious, charming, and profoundly funny,” Light said. “She taught me so much about life and inspired me indelibly by watching her work. Katherine was a gift to our business and to the world, and will be deeply missed.”

Another “Who’s the Boss?” co-star, Alyssa Milano, is among those who have taken to Twitter to pay their respects.

“Katherine Helmond has passed away. My beautiful, kind, funny, gracious, compassionate, rock. You were an instrumental part of my life. You taught me to hold my head above the marsh! You taught me to do anything for a laugh! What an example you were! Rest In Peace, Katherine,” Milano tweeted.

Helmond is survived by her husband, David Christian, who said the following after her death was announced:

“She was the love of my life,” Christian said. “We spent 57 beautiful, wonderful, loving years together, which I will treasure forever. I’ve been with Katherine since I was 19 years old. The night she died, I saw that the moon was exactly half-full, just as I am now … half of what I’ve been my entire adult life.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Nordisk Film & TV Fond Announces

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Backs Joachim Trier, Ole Bornedal, Yellow Bird

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond has announced three features, two series and a documentary set to receive $1.4m in financing, as well as distribution, dubbing and cultural initiative support recipients. Doing so, it highlights some of the key titles moving forward in the Nordic region. Already backed by the Danish Film Institute’s largest ever grant [...]

  • TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley' Final

    TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley's' Final Season Sets October Premiere Date

    In today’s roundup, “Silicon Valley” returns to HBO on Oct. 27 and Quibi greenlights a new cooking competition show “Dismantled.” DATES The fifth season of Netflix‘s “Peaky Blinders” will premiere on the streamer Oct. 4. The newest season will continue to follow one gangster family in the lawless streets of Birmingham, UK during the midst [...]

  • Peter Fonda Dead: 'Easy Rider' Star

    Peter Fonda, Star of 'Easy Rider,' Dies at 79

    Two-time Oscar nominee Peter Fonda, who became a counterculture icon when he co-wrote, produced and starred in seminal 1969 road movie “Easy Rider,” then showed Hollywood he could act about three decades later in “Ulee’s Gold,” died on Friday from lung cancer at his home in Los Angeles. He was 79. His sister Jane Fonda [...]

  • CineLink Drama Brings High-End Series to

    CineLink Drama Brings High-End Series to Sarajevo

    When the organizers of the Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Industry Days surveyed the local TV landscape several years ago, they recognized the chance to make an impact. “We decided five years ago that we need to do something,” says CineLink industry coordinator Armin Hadzic. “The [regional] TV and public broadcasters were coming from another age.” [...]

  • SCHOOLED - ABC's "Schooled" stars Bryan

    'Kids Are Alright' Creator Joins 'Schooled' Season 2 as Showrunner

    Tim Doyle is taking over as showrunner and executive producer on the upcoming second season of “Schooled” at ABC, Variety has confirmed. Doyle takes over from Season 1 showrunner and series co-creator Marc Firek, who has exited the series to focus on development. The news comes just months after Doyle’s 1970s-set comedy series, “The Kids [...]

  • Matthew Miller'Lethal Weapon' TV series screening,

    'Lethal Weapon' Team Lands Put Pilot Order at Fox for Cop Drama 'Dead Eddie' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Matt Miller and Alex Taub are staying in business with Fox. The pair, who previously worked together on Fox’s series adaptation of “Lethal Weapon,” have scored a put pilot commitment at the broadcaster for a new drama project, Variety has learned exclusively. The drama is titled “Dead Eddie.” In the series, after a near-death experience, misanthropic [...]

  • Krypton Syfy

    'Krypton' Canceled After Two Seasons at Syfy, Network Not Moving Forward on 'Lobo' Spinoff

    “Krypton” has been canceled after two seasons at Syfy. In addition, the NBCUniversal cabler is not moving ahead with a planned “Lobo” spinoff. “Krypton,” set two generations before the destruction of Superman’s titular home planet, follows Superman’s grandfather Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) as a young man faced with saving his home planet or letting it be [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content