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Mary Tyler Moore (1936 – 2017)

by Kirk Fox

Mary Tyler Moore, the vivacious actress known best for roles on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” died Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. She was 80.

Mary Tyler Moore, the vivacious actress known best for roles on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” died Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, according to multiple news sources. She was 80.

Moore was one of the most popular TV stars of the 1960s and ’70s, thanks to the two hit series that featured her in prominent roles. “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was the first, the show that made her America’s sweetheart. Just 24 years old and a relative unknown when the show launched in 1961, Moore was chosen from among dozens of actresses who auditioned to play the role of Laura Petrie, wife of Dick Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie.


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“The Dick Van Dyke Show” was a great success, scoring well in the Nielsen ratings for its five seasons and living on as an all-time classic in reruns more than 50 years later. In 2013, TV Guide deemed it one of the 60 best TV series of all time. Contemporary critics loved it, too, bestowing 15 Emmy awards on the show – two of which went to Moore, who won best actress in 1964 and 1966.

Moore created an iconic look with Laura Petrie’s wardrobe, helping shape the character’s appearance with her own personal preference. Sleek and stylish clothes were the foundation of the character’s look. “I was a young housewife, and I wore capri pants,” she remembered in an interview with Violet Grey, “so I wanted Laura to wear capri pants.” The look was popular off-screen, as well; women around the country copied the trend.

With five seasons of popularity under her belt upon the 1966 finale of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” it was no surprise that Moore would move on to her own show. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” debuted in 1970, pitched to CBS by Moore and her then-husband, producer Grant Tinker. The popular show focused on Moore’s character, Mary Richards, a young single woman working as an associate producer for a TV news program. Just that premise alone was groundbreaking – unmarried career women had rarely been seen on television, and never as a show’s lead character.

But it was more than the show’s concept that was a game changer. The show itself – its writing, characters, situations and conversations – brought a new tone to prime time, a cool sophistication that didn’t pander to its audience. A contemporary review from The Associated Press credited the show with doing no less than this: “(It) took 20 years of pointless, insipid television situation comedy and spun it on its heels.” The show portrayed one of the most classic female friendships of TV history between Mary and her neighbor, Rhoda, played by Valerie Harper. And it brought us a quiet feminism, one that wasn’t as in-your-face as that of the contemporary sitcom “Maude” but instead simply had Mary facing the world as a liberated woman.

Check out Mary Tyler Moore and other celebrities in our 1970s Sitcom Stars Gallery.

Some of the show’s episodes are legendary in the annals of television, notably “Chuckles Bites the Dust.” In it, the network’s children’s star, Chuckles the Clown, dies while dressed as a peanut in a circus parade – “a rogue elephant tried to shell him.” Moore gave a masterful performance as she first scolded her friends for laughing at his manner of death, then broke into uncontrollable giggles at his funeral. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” won a record-setting 29 Emmy awards, three of which were Moore’s for best actress, bringing her to a total of five best actress Emmys. That’s a record, one that Moore shares only with Candice Bergen and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

In the years after the 1977 finale of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Moore took roles on a number of sitcoms, though none of them captured the success of her two iconic shows. They included “Mary” (1978), “The Mary Tyler Moore Hour” (1979), “Mary” (1985), and “Annie McGuire” (1988). She starred on television specials and made guest appearances on shows including “That ’70s Show” and “Hot in Cleveland.”

Though Moore is most associated with the small screen, she also took turns in movies and onstage. Perhaps her best-known and most successful movie role was in “Ordinary People” (1980), in which she played a mother struggling with grief after the death of her son. She was nominated for the Academy Award for best actress for her performance. Other movies included “Change of Habit” (1969), in which she starred opposite Elvis Presley; “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (1967); and “Six Weeks” (1992). She starred on Broadway in “Whose Life Is It Anyway” (1980).

In 1969, Moore and Tinker established the production company MTM Enterprises, familiar to television fans from the 1970s through the ’90s for the mewing kitten in its logo. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was the flagship program for MTM Enterprises, which went on to produce hit shows including “The Bob Newhart Show” (1972), “WKRP in Cincinnati” (1978), and “Hill Street Blues” (1981).

Though Moore’s acting career featured many highlights, her personal life wasn’t always as positive. She struggled with alcoholism for years, beginning during “The Dick Van Dyke Show” era, until checking into the Betty Ford Clinic and successfully kicking the habit with the organization’s help in 1984. She had two failed marriages – first to Dick Meeker, then to Tinker. Most devastating to Moore was the 1980 death of her only child, Richard, from an accidental gunshot wound. He was 24. In her autobiography, “After All” (1995), Moore wrote poignantly of the moment when she scattered her son’s ashes: “It was a sunny day. The water was clear and high as I knelt over it. I opened the container and emptied it into the rushing water. What was meant to be a prayer became an outraged demand. ‘You take care of him,’ I screamed at the sky.”

Moore also faced health challenges for many years, beginning with a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes when she was 33. In 2011, she underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. And in 2014, reports began to surface on the Internet that she was having heart and kidney problems and was nearly blind.

Moore’s long experience with diabetes led her to activism in support of finding a cure for the disease. She was international chairwoman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and a strong advocate in favor of embryonic stem cell research, which she believed would lead to a cure. She testified before Congress in favor of federal funding for the research, and she summed up her passion for the cause by stating, “In the end, it’s all about realizing our interconnectedness, mutual compassion, and hope for the future.”

Another cause dear to Moore’s heart was animal welfare. She explained the genesis of her awareness in an interview with Larry King: “… I was 9 and coming home from school, and I saw a man cornered a dog and was beating him with a stick. And I yelled at him to stop it, and he wouldn’t, and I just dropped my schoolbooks and ran and jumped him and beat him around the head and shoulders and kicked him with my feet. And I feel that to this moment.” Moore channeled that deep feeling into her work with Farm Sanctuary, raising awareness in favor of the ethical treatment of farm animals. She also co-founded Broadway Barks, an annual New York City event promoting the adoption of shelter animals.

In addition to Moore’s five Emmy awards for best actress, she won three Golden Globes, an Emmy for best supporting actress, a Crystal Award from Women in Film and Television International, and two Tony awards. She received lifetime achievement awards from the Screen Actors Guild and the American Comedy Awards, and she was a member of the Television Hall of Fame. In 2002, TV Land and the city of Minneapolis honored Moore with a statue in downtown Minneapolis, depicting an iconic scene from the opening credits of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in which Mary stopped in the middle of the street and threw her hat in the air.

Moore was born Dec. 29, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York. She is survived by her third husband, Dr. Robert Levine.

Many people took to social media to pay tribute to the beloved actress:

Ed Asner, her co-star on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”: “my heart goes out to you and your family. Know that I love you and believe in your strength.”

“There are no words. She was THE BEST! We always said that we changed each other’s lives for the better.” – Dick Van Dyke, TV husband on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” via Twitter

Actor Michael Keaton: “Mary(MTM) was a gem. She was iconic, my boss, cast mate and a friend and I will miss her”

U.S. Sen. Al Franken: “Mary Tyler Moore will always be immortalized in Minnesota. My thoughts are with her family and loved ones today.”

Ellen DeGeneres: “Mary Tyler Moore changed the world for all women. I send my love to her family.”

We invite you to share condolences for Mary Tyler Moore in our Guest Book.

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