Obituary

More than 50 million Americans watched Harper's character get married

Valerie Harper (above), at a Tony Award nominees press reception in 2010, played Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off Rhoda in the 1970s.
Valerie Harper (above), at a Tony Award nominees press reception in 2010, played Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off Rhoda in the 1970s.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • Valerie Harper, one of American television's biggest stars in the 1970s for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off Rhoda, died last Friday after a long battle with lung and brain cancer. She was 80.

Harper won four Emmys and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Rhoda Morgenstern, Moore's brash, wisecracking and neurotic neighbour, eventually earning her own sitcom.

A 1974 episode of Rhoda in which her character got married was watched by more than 50 million Americans, which The New York Times described as a cultural phenomenon in which "we got together as a nation, in anticipation and retrospection, to watch a marriage".

Harper's husband Tony Cacciotti wrote in a message posted on Twitter by their adopted daughter Cristina: "My beautiful caring wife of nearly 40 years has passed away at 10.06am, after years of fighting cancer. She will never, ever be forgotten. Rest In Peace, mia Valeria."

Born in New York state, Harper began her career as a ballet dancer at Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall.

She acted on Broadway before moving to television and feature films, including Freebie And The Bean (1974) and Chapter Two (1979), both movies earning her Golden Globe nominations.

She starred on The Mary Tyler Moore Show from 1970 to 1974 and Rhoda for another four years. Her co-star Mary Tyler Moore died in 2017.

Reacting to Harper's death, her Mary Tyler Moore co-star Ed Asner tweeted: "A beautiful woman, a wonderful actress, a great friend and with balls bigger than mine. Her brilliance burst through and shined its light upon all of us. Goodnight beautiful. I'll see you soon."

Harper also starred as Valerie Hogan in the 1980s sitcom, Valerie, but her character was killed off after her public contract dispute with network NBC, and the show was re-named The Hogan Family.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009. She was given just months to live when it spread to her brain in 2013, but she defied the odds for another six years.

In July, her family started a GoFundMe page, citing "unrelenting medical costs". The page raised more than US$66,000 (S$92,000).

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2019, with the headline 'More than 50 million Americans watched Harper's character get married'. Print Edition | Subscribe