Katherine Helmond — a seven-time Emmy-nominated actress best known for her work as the sexually adventurous Mona Robinson on the ABC sitcom Who’s the Boss? alongside Tony Danza, Judith Light, and Alyssa Milano — died Feb. 23 at age 89.
Helmond died at her Los Angeles home on Saturday as a result of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, according to her agency APA (per The Hollywood Reporter).
Across eight seasons of Who’s the Boss?, Helmond played the feisty mother of a divorced advertising executive Angela (Light) who hires an ex-Major League Baseball player (Danza) to work as her live-in housekeeper, though he brings his daughter (Milano) with him to live with Angela and her son (Danny Pintauro).
Prior to landing her career-defining role on Who’s the Boss? in 1984, Helmond appeared on Susan Harris‘ ABC daytime satire Soap from 1977 to 1981. The performance earned her four consecutive Emmy nominations for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series; she later received a pair of additional nominations for her work on Who’s the Boss? and another for her guest spot on a 2002 episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, where she played Patricia Heaton’s mother.
Among Helmond’s other notable television credits are Doris Sherman — a widowed owner of a fictional NFL team — on ABC’s Coach and Caroline Bellefleur (grandmother to Portia Bellefleur) on HBO’s True Blood. She also acted in a trio of films by Terry Gilliam, including Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). Her final screen credit is listed as a supporting role in 2018’s Frank and Ava, a dramatization of Frank Sinatra’s romance with Ava Gardner.
Milano, who also joined Helmond for EW’s Who’s the Boss? reunion in 2016, paid tribute to the performer Friday via Twitter, calling the onscreen maternal figure her “beautiful, kind, funny, gracious, compassionate, rock.”
“You were an instrumental part of my life,” Milano’s tweet continued. “You taught me to hold my head above the marsh! You taught me to do anything for a laugh! What an example you were!”
“We lost a national treasure,” Danza shared on social media. “No words can measure my love.”
“Katherine Helmond was such a class act and incredibly down to earth,” Heaton said on Instagram, captioning a photo of her and Helmond together on Raymond. “She was terrific as my mother on #EveryboyLovesRaymond and I looked up to her as a role model.”
“I remember reading the script and thinking, ‘This is pretty good! This is a good show,'” Helmond said during the Who’s the Boss? reunion. “I looked forward to going to work every week.”
“Katherine Helmond is a joke machine. You couldn’t find her in the gag reel ’cause she never made a mistake,” Danza added. “She was the sister I never had. Those were the years I was running around Hollywood. I got married, I had kids. If I didn’t have her as a sounding board… She’s the most wonderful person ever. She was a good influence on me. She calmed me down and showed me what was important.”
Born on Texas’ Galveston Island on July 5, 1929, Helmond initially pursued acting in Houston and Dallas before moving to New York to find work. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Helmond bought a theater in upstate New York to perform her own plays, going on to spend seven years with the Hartford Stage Company in Connecticut and the Trinity Repertory Theater in Providence, Rhode Island. She ultimately moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career on screen, landing a guest-starring role on Gunsmoke in 1972 before working with Arthur Hiller on The Hospital (1971) and Alfred Hitchcock in Family Plot (1976).
Helmond is survived by her husband, David Christian, whom she married 57 years ago.