Mary Tyler Moore incarnated the modern woman on TV

Emmy-winning actress and comedian Mary Tyler Moore has died at the age of 80.
Mary Tyler Moore's death was caused by cardiopulmonary arrest after she had contracted pneumonia.
Mary Tyler Moore's death was caused by cardiopulmonary arrest after she had contracted pneumonia. PHOTO: NYTIMES

GREENWICH (NYTIMES) - Mary Tyler Moore, whose witty and graceful performances on two top-rated television shows in the 1960s and '70s helped define a new vision of American womanhood, died Wednesday (Jan 25) in Greenwich, Connecticut. She was 80.

Her family said her death, at Greenwich Hospital, was caused by cardiopulmonary arrest after she had contracted pneumonia.

Moore faced more than her share of private sorrow, and she went on to more serious fare, including an Oscar-nominated role in the 1980 film Ordinary People as a frosty, resentful mother whose son has died. But she was most indelibly known as the incomparably spunky Mary Richards on the CBS hit sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Broadcast from 1970 to 1977, it was produced by both Moore and her second husband, CBS executive Grant Tinker, who died Nov 28.

At least a decade before the twin figures of the harried working woman and the neurotic, unwed 30-something became media preoccupations, Moore's portrayal - for which she won four of her seven Emmy Awards - expressed both the exuberance and the melancholy of the single career woman who could plot her own course without reference to cultural archetypes.

Moore had earlier, in a decidedly different era, played another beloved television character: Laura Petrie, the stylish wife of the comedy writer played by Dick Van Dyke on "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Also on CBS, the show ran from 1961 to 1966. Her performance won her two Emmys.

 

Mary Tyler Moore was born on Dec 29, 1936, in New York. After living in Queens and Brooklyn, her family moved to California when she was 8. Her father, George Tyler Moore, a clerk, and her mother, the former Margery Hackett, were both alcoholics and, Moore often said, imperfect parents.

In 1955 she married Richard Meeker, a salesman. Her only child, Richard Jr., was born in 1956. He died in 1980 when a gun with a hair trigger went off in his hands.

After the birth of her son, Moore danced in various television shows before turning to acting. Moore's marriage to Meeker had dissolved by 1961, and she met Tinker, who was then an executive at 20th Century Fox, in 1962. They were married, in Las Vegas, the same year. Together they formed MTM Enterprises, and in the late '60s, they pitched a show to CBS about a recently single woman who was working and living on her own.

In the 1980s, Moore admitted to having a drinking problem. She entered the Betty Ford Center for treatment in 1984.

She also sought roles that would let her express the gravitas she had shown in "Ordinary People." In 1980 she won a Tony for her performance on Broadway as a quadriplegic who wanted to die in "Whose Life Is It, Anyway?" On television she played the cruel director of an orphanage in "Stolen Babies," for which she won her seventh Emmy.

In 2012 the Screen Actors Guild gave Moore a lifetime achievement award. Moore and Tinker divorced in 1981. In 1983 she married Dr Robert Levine, a physician, who is her only immediate survivor.

In 1995, in an interview with The New York Times, Moore was asked if she resented being asked by reporters about Mary Richards.

"I think some of them may be trying to find some way to instruct, or to make a judgment about, or in some way set themselves above me," she said.

"I've come to the point in my life where I don't have to work," she continued. "I work because I enjoy it."