Mary Tyler Moore, who became a TV icon by playing the consummately cute wife (on The Dick Van Dyke Show) and the plucky single gal (on The Mary Tyler Moore Show), died Wednesday, January 25. 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,” Mara Buxbaum, Moore’s longtime representative, said in a statement. “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.”
A trained dancer who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Moore’s breakout role came as Van Dyke’s neurotic wife, Laura Petrie, in the long-running sitcom that aired from 1961-66. The part showcased her ability to hold her own against a comedic heavyweight and won her two Emmys. But it was on Moore’s eponymous sitcom (1970-77) that she helped change the face of women on television. Her Mary Richards was 30-something and single – she’d left her fiance to make it on her own at a Minneapolis TV station. She was a nice girl who lived alone, serial dated, used birth control, and threw her beret in the air to signify just how independent she was. For her groundbreaking role, Moore picked up three more Emmys.
“At that [early] stage of my life, I was perfectly happy playing myself,” she told Entertainment Weekly in a 1995 interview. She would spend the rest of her life playing against – but never completely erasing – that sunny image. Most famously, she took on the role of Timothy Hutton’s icy mother in 1980’s Oscar-winning drama Ordinary People, for which she won a Golden Globe. In 1993, she won her seventh Emmy for playing a corrupt adoption official in the TV movie Stolen Babies. Her later attempts at TV series – 1985’s Mary, 1988’s Annie McGuire, and 1995’s New York News – cast her yet again as anti-Marys only to face quick cancellation. She’s also appeared more recently in showy guest spots on That ’70s Show and Lipstick Jungle, but none of her later roles could eclipse her early iconic successes.
Her personal life, too, played out much more darkly than it did for her most famous alter egos. Her only son (with her first husband), Richard Meeker Jr., died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot in 1980. She spent years battling alcoholism until checking into rehab in 1984 and spent a lifetime managing her Type 1 Diabetes, becoming a national spokesperson for the disease. She was married three times, including a 24-year union with TV production partner Grant Tinker, who died in November 2016. (She remained married to cardiologist S. Robert Levine, whom she wed in 1983, until her death.) Sharing her life story and health struggles has kept her in the spotlight with two memoirs, 1995’s After All and 2009’s Growing Up Again.
But she’ll always be that hat-throwing single girl to a generation of women who struggled to win such independence for themselves. She was the one who paved way for the liberated ladies of modern primetime. Carrie Bradshaw and Liz Lemon kindly thank you, Mary.