STARS IN HER EYES
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on Dec. 29, 1936, Moore was a young girl when she set her sights on being an entertainer. “I knew at a very early age what I wanted to do,” the actress — who passed away on Jan. 25, 2017, from complications of diabetes — told the Archive of American Television in 1997. “Some people refer to it as indulging in my instincts and artistic bent. I call it just showing off, which was what I did from about 3 years of age on.”
A FOOT IN THE DOOR
Moore made her television debut in 1955 (the same year she married salesman Richard Meeker) as Happy Hotpoint, a dancing elf in a dishwasher commercial that ran during the popular series The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. That led to acting jobs, and in 1959 she snagged the recurring role of an answering-service girl on Richard Diamond, Private Detective — but only her legs appeared on-camera!
MAKE ‘EM LAUGH
In 1961, Moore was cast as Capri pants-clad housewife Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, serving as straight man to the sitcom’s other stars. But series creator Carl Reiner soon noticed that the actress was funny. “I could handle the occasional quip,” Moore told PBS in 2003. “And Carl started writing for me in such a way that I could still feed Dick straight lines but I could also get a laugh.” Her comedic skills, including the hilarious way she would shrill “Oh, Rob!,” landed her two Emmys during the show’s five-year run.
A BIG PRODUCTION
After giving birth to a son, Richie Meeker, in 1956 and divorcing her husband, Moore wed advertising executive Grant Tinker in 1962. The couple would later become a powerful force in Hollywood when they formed MTM Enterprises, the TV production company that created such hits as Hill Street Blues, WKRP in Cincinnati, St. Elsewhere and, of course, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
YOU’RE GONNA MAKE IT AFTER ALL
When The Dick Van Dyke Show went off the air in 1966, Moore switched mediums, making movies like Thoroughly Modern Millie and playing a nun in the Elvis Presley vehicle Change of Habit. But by 1970 she returned to the small screen as news producer Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Feminists rejoiced: The vulnerable yet independent Richards was TV’s first single career woman whose professional success wasn’t dependent upon a man. The actress was rewarded with three more Emmys for her work on the groundbreaking show.
Like Mary Richards, who moved to a new city after ending a relationship, Moore ended her series in 1977, divorced Tinker and left Hollywood to start over in New York. She made a triumphant Broadway debut and won a Tony as a paralyzed sculptor in Whose Life Is It Anyway?, a role originally written for a man. That same year she also nabbed an Oscar nomination for playing a grieving parent in Ordinary People.
Moore lost her only child, Richie, 24, when he accidentally shot himself in 1980. The actress, who admitted she and her son had had a rocky relationship over the years, in part due to her all-consuming focus on her career, had only recently reconciled with him.
A NEW LOVE
In 1982, Moore met Dr. Robert Levine when he treated her elderly mother for bronchitis. “After I’d seen her mom the second time,” the cardiologist told PEOPLE in 1984, “I said to Mary, ‘If there’s an emergency just get in touch with me.’ And Mary said, ‘Does acute loneliness count?’ And I said, ‘Yes.'” They married the next year.
For her memorable work in two hit series, Moore was inducted into the Television Arts & Sciences’ Hall of Fame in 1986, along with other TV pioneers like Jackie Gleason, Walt Disney and Steve Allen.
AN OPEN BOOK
In 1995, Moore published a memoir, After All, in which she talked candidly about her problems with alcohol. “Not surprisingly, during that summer [after her divorce], the distillation of my growing alcoholism took place,” she wrote. “Even though I was accomplishing things by myself, it was all so uncomfortable that I anesthetized myself at the end of the day. Nothing was so tough I couldn’t get through it until 5:30 or 6. Then the effects of vodka on the rocks made it all go away.”
An ardent supporter of animal rights (she owned four dogs, including a pit bull and golden retriever), Moore teamed up with Bernadette Peters to cofound Broadway Barks, an annual dog and cat adoption event. “We need more awareness that there are no-kill shelters that will take animals in and try to instill [the animals] with the same kind of affection and love that we recognize as people,” Moore said in a 2013 interview on broadwaybarks.com.
A PERSONAL CRUSADE
Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 33, Moore worked for decades to raise awareness of the disease, which is also called juvenile diabetes. “When I was first diagnosed, I debated about how up front I should be,” Moore admitted to NIH MedlinePlus magazine in 2006. “[But] I also realized that if I did speak out, I might be able to help others better cope and manage their diabetes.” She served as international chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for more than 20 years.
THRILL OF A LIFETIME
In tribute to her 50-plus-year career in television and movies, in 2012 Moore received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, which was presented to her by her former costar and close friend Dick Van Dyke. “I love that woman,” said the actor before presenting her with the honor. “I know everyone loves her, but I mean, I’m serious about it. I saw her first.”
A HAPPY REUNION
Making her final TV appearance in 2013, Moore, nearly blind from diabetes, was reunited on Hot in Cleveland with several of her Mary Tyler Moore costars, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Betty White and Georgia Engel. The group remained tight over the years. “Even though we are playing different people [on Hot in Cleveland],” said Moore, “we are still ourselves, and no matter where you put us, we will continue to be ourselves and interact as only you can when you’ve been together for a long, long time.”
TAKING A TURN
In the last years of her life, her health continued to decline. During an appearance on Larry King Now in October 2015, Van Dyke spoke out about Moore’s deteriorating condition, saying that he was in touch with her husband but that talking to Moore was near impossible at that point. “She’s really not even communicating now,” Van Dyke said. “It makes me sad.”
Moore died on Jan. 25, 2017, at a Connecticut hospital surrounded by her friends and her husband of over 30 years, Robert Levine, according to a statement from her representative.
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