Groundbreaking actress and producer Mary Tyler Moore died on Wednesday at the age of 80 in the company of friends and her husband of over 33 years, Dr. S. Robert Levine, her agent Mara Buxbaum told The Huffington Post. Moore had been hospitalized after contracting pneumonia, her family said. She died of cardiopulmonary arrest.
Mary Tyler Moore’s “witty and graceful performances on two top-rated television shows in the 1960s and ’70s helped define a new vision of American womanhood,” said The New York Times.
Moore was born in Brooklyn Heights, New York, in 1936 but grew up in Los Angeles, after the family moved moved to California when she was 8.
Her father and mother were both alcoholics and Moore, while still a child, arranged to live with an aunt, seeing her parents only on special occasions. The eldest of three, Mary outlived “her sister, Elizabeth Moore, who died of a drug and alcohol overdose in 1978, and her brother, John Hackett Moore, who died of cancer in 1992,” according to The Times.
Moore rose to international stardom playing Laura Petrie, comedy writer Dick Van Dyke’s wife on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” from 1961 to 1966. But her most famous role, of course, was playing the beloved star of the 1970s sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”—a wholesome, single, 30-year-old TV news producer named Mary Richards who seemed right at home in the newsroom amongst her friends and colleagues.
“The show moved away from the domestic sphere, featuring a woman in an office. It was one of the first to explicitly call a male character gay and to mention the Pill,” says Reese.
Many women, who were first entering the workplace in the early 1970s, saw Mary Richards as a role model, “envying her cozy apartment and vibrant friendships,” writes Hope Reese in The Atlantic.
In real life, Mary Tyler Moore commanded as much respect as the show’s producer. She and her former husband Grant Tinker had co-founded the production company MTM Enterprises, which successfully pitched the show to CBS. In its seven seasons, from 1970-77, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” won 29 Emmys, the most ever, until “Frasier” broke the record in 2002.
As Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s notes in her book, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic, the strength of the show was its subtlety. “The show was able to push boundaries by filling the cast with cynical, hardened characters like Lou and Rhoda” so that Mary seemed particularly wholesome in contrast.
“I think Mary Tyler Moore has probably had more influence on my career than any other single person or force,” Oprah Winfrey said recently in a PBS documentary celebrating Moore.
Moore went on to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of a mother unable to respond to her surviving son or husband after the loss of her favorite son in Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People” in 1980. That same year, she lost her son, Richard, who committed suicide.
In 2012, the Screen Actors Guild awarded Moore a lifetime achievement award.
“She was an impressive person and a talented person and a beautiful person. A force of nature,” Carl Reiner, producer, director and creator of the “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” told The Associated Press. “She’ll last forever, as long as there’s television. Year after year, we’ll see her face in front of us.”
– Danielle Bizzarro