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Nanette Fabray (1920–2018), Award-winning actress and humanitarian

by Legacy Staff

Nanette Fabray, an Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress and humanitarian.

Nanette Fabray, an Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress and humanitarian, died Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 of natural causes, according to multiple news sources. She was 97.

Born Ruby Bernadette Nanette Fabares Oct. 27, 1920, in San Diego, California, Fabray became involved in showbiz as a child. Fabray learned to tap dance, and she made her professional stage debut at age 3. She spent much of her childhood appearing in vaudeville shows, learning and refining skills that would serve her well in musical comedy.


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In her 20s, Fabray was diagnosed with hereditary hearing loss. She had four operations throughout her lifetime to restore her hearing. She also began wearing a hearing aid and speaking publicly about her disability in her 30s.

“I was the first celebrity to stand up and say, ‘I’m not perfect,'” she told The Morning Call in a 1996 interview.

Undeterred by her physical challenges, Fabray became a successful musical theater actress in the 1940s, winning the 1949 Tony Award for best performance by a leading actress in a musical for her performance in “Love Life.”

She began appearing on TV in the 1950s. She received great acclaim acting opposite Sid Caesar on his sketch comedy show “Caesar’s Hour.” She won three Emmy awards during her two seasons on the show, from 1954 to 1956. In 1961, she starred on her own series, which lasted 13 episodes.

Fabray made frequent appearances on sitcoms, often as the mother of a show’s main character. These shows included “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “One Day at a Time,” and “Coach,” where she played mother to her real-life niece, actress Shelley Fabares.

Throughout her life, Fabray continued to advocate for people with hearing disabilities. Her efforts contributed to the Americans With Disabilities Act, and she was a founding member of the National Captioning Institute, which was instrumental in passing a law requiring that all TV sets be equipped with captioning in 1994.

Fabray was preceded in death by her husband, the screenwriter Ranald MacDougall. She is survived by her son and grandchildren.

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