Mary Tyler Moore - one of TV's first feminist icons

Mary Tyler Moore (above) in a 2011 photo taken at her home in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Mary Tyler Moore (above) in a 2011 photo taken at her home in Greenwich, Connecticut. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Mary Tyler Moore, whose comic timing and all-American beauty made her a leading TV star and Emmy Award-winning actress before she took on dramatic roles in films, and whose 1970s sitcom about the life of a professional single woman was considered a cultural and feminist milestone, died on Wednesday at a hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut. She was 80.

She died following cardiopulmonary arrest after she had contracted pneumonia, her family said. Moore, who had a home in Greenwich, had Type 1 diabetes since her 30s. She had a benign brain tumour removed in 2011.

Her representative said in a statement she died "in the company of friends and her loving husband of over 33 years, Dr S. Robert Levine". "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."

Moore, who played a spunky housewife on The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s and an idealistic career woman on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s, was an actress of dynamic range and accomplishment.

She won a 1980 Tony Award for playing a quadriplegic sculptor in Whose Life Is It Anyway? and an Emmy for her role as a villainous orphanage director in the TV production Stolen Babies (1993). She was nominated for an Oscar as the frosty matriarch in Robert Redford's Ordinary People (1980).

  • Stars pay tribute

  • Less than an hour after news broke of her death, Mary Tyler Moore was the top trending item on Twitter. Co-stars, friends and fans reacted with an outpouring of tributes on social media, in statements and on TV.

    "There are no words. She was THE BEST! We always said that we changed each other's lives for the better."

    Dick Van Dyke, 91, her co-star on The Dick Van Dyke Show

    "A great lady I loved and owe so much to has left us. I will miss her. I will never be able to repay her for the blessings that she gave me."

    Ed Asner, 87, who played her boss on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

    "Mary's energy, spirit and talent created a new bright spot in the television landscape and she will be very much missed. The courage she displayed in taking on a role, darker than anything she had ever done, was brave and enormously powerful."

    Robert Redford, who directed Moore in Ordinary People

    "A minute's silence as we remembered one of the true greats of TV comedy."

    Actor Stephen Fry, who was rehearsing on the Hollywood stage where The Mary Tyler Moore Show was produced

    "RIP #MaryTylerMoore - TV & film star, tireless defender of animals, and scourge of diabetes. Truly she turned the world on with her smile."

    Film-maker Kevin Smith

    "Mary (MTM) was a gem. She was iconic, my boss, castmate and a friend and I will miss her."

    Actor Michael Keaton, who worked with her on her shows Mary and The Mary Tyler Moore Hour

    "Mary Tyler Moore changed the world for all women."

    TV show host Ellen DeGeneres

But she was primarily considered one of TV's finest comic actresses because of her roles on two of the most popular sitcoms of all time.

She received two Emmy Awards for playing the scatterbrained Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, which aired on CBS from 1961 to 1966.

Moore, sporting capri pants and a Jackie Kennedy bouffant, held her own against veteran entertainers such as Van Dyke (as her husband), Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie. The sexual spark she generated with her TV husband was a novel twist on previous TV homemakers, who were generally portrayed as maternal and gowned in skirts and pearls.

Often considered one of the most literate sitcoms of its era, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was among the first sitcoms to have a single working woman as the lead character. Its appeal was often attributed to its feminist consciousness, with Moore playing fictional Minneapolis assistant TV news producer Mary Richards, who navigates a career, friendships and single life.

The show was lauded for its realistic portrayal of the modern woman - one whose life focused on work, not family, and one in which men were colleagues, not husbands or love interests.

It touched on subjects once considered taboo, such as birth control. "Thirty-three, unmarried and unworried - Mary is the liberated woman's ideal", TV Guide wrote in 1973. But, primarily, the show was funny.

Moore's appeal counterbalanced the strong personalities of her male co-stars: Ed Asner as her boss Lou Grant; Ted Knight as arrogant anchorman Ted Baxter; and Gavin MacLeod as jaded writer Murray Slaughter.

Richards' work life was offset by her all-female home life with Cloris Leachman as her landlady Phyllis and Valerie Harper as her neighbour, Rhoda. Leachman and Harper's characters developed a following and became featured in spin-off series, as did Asner's Lou Grant.

When the CBS series ended in 1977, Richards' life was not resolved in a predictable way.

She did not get married and had no prospects for a husband. Moore was nominated for an Emmy Award as lead actress every year during the show's seven-year run, winning three times.

She produced the show and its spin-offs with her second husband Grant Tinker, who later ran NBC and who died on Nov 28. Their company MTM Enterprises also made hit shows including The Bob Newhart Show, Hill Street Blues and Remington Steele. After The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she focused on more dramatic roles, such as the one in Ordinary People.

The Brooklyn-born star's private life was however beset with tragedy. Her mother was an alcoholic, which foreshadowed her own struggles with alcoholism.

In 1961, she divorced her first husband, salesman Richard Meeker. She married Mr Tinker in 1962. That second marriage crumbled soon after her only child, Richard Meeker Jr, shot and killed himself in 1980, at age 24, in an incident officially deemed an accident.

Her brother John, who battled alcoholism, died in 1992 after a long fight with kidney cancer, aged 47. Her sister Elizabeth died in 1978, at 21, after overdosing on narcotics and alcohol.

In 1983, she married her third husband Dr Levine, her only immediate survivor.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2017, with the headline 'Mary Tyler Moore - one of TV's first feminist icons'. Print Edition | Subscribe