Cloris Leachman has nothing but love for her longtime friend and fellow actress Mary Tyler Moore, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 80.
Leachman, 90, acted opposite Moore on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s and later reunited with her — alongside former costars Valerie Harper, Georgia Engel, and Betty White — on camera for an episode of Hot in Cleveland in 2013.
Reflecting on her time spent working and getting to know the veteran actress, Leachman remembers Moore’s sweet and kind spirit — and dubs her “America’s sweetheart.”
“My heart goes out to her husband, Robert — he was never more than a touch away from her. The picture that we all have of her, that’s how she was— sweet, kind, so tender, so delicate. She was America’s sweetheart,” Leachman tells PEOPLE in a statement.
Leachman, who appeared as Phyllis Lindstrom on MTM, adds, “Valerie and I always had to rehearse and rehearse, to work things through, but Mary was always ready to go — thoroughly prepared.”
Although they briefly reunited nearly four years ago for their guest appearances on Hot in Cleveland, Leachman says she “had a feeling” that it would be the last time she would see Moore.
“The last time I saw her was our Hot in Cleveland reunion. I had a feeling I wouldn’t see her again,” says Leachman, who adds, “If I could see her one last time, I’d hold her in my arms and say, ‘We love you.'”
Moore is survived by her husband of more than 33 years, Dr. S. Robert Levine.