Cloris Leachman, star of 'Mary Tyler Moore Show,' dies at 94

FILE - Cloris Leachman attends the premiere of Photo: Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File. FILE - Cloris Leachman attends the premiere of "The Comedian" during the 2016 AFI Fest on Nov. 11, 2016, in Los Angeles. Leachman stars in the faith-based film "I Can Only Imagine" which has made over $22 million in just six days of release on a $7 million budget. Leachman, a character actor whose depth of talent brought her an Oscar for the "The Last Picture Show" and Emmys for her comedic work in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and other TV series, has died. She was 94.

ABC News
Created: January 27, 2021 04:41 PM

Cloris Leachman, the versatile Oscar-winning actress whose career on stage, television and film spanned more than seven decades, has died at age 94.

"It's been my privilege to work with Cloris Leachman, one of the most fearless actresses of our time," her longtime manager, Juliet Green, said in a statement. "There was no one like Cloris. With a single look she had the ability to break your heart or make you laugh 'till the tears ran down your face. You never knew what Cloris was going to say or do and that unpredictable quality was part of her unparalleled magic."

"She loved her children and her grandchildren ferociously. A lifelong vegetarian, she was a passionate advocate for animal rights," Green added. "The family requests that any donations in her name be made to PETA or Last Chance for Animals."

Green said Leachman died of natural causes in Encinitas, California.

Leachman, equally adept at comedy and drama, was perhaps best known for her TV roles on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and its spinoff "Phyllis," as well as "The Facts of Life," "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Raising Hope." She won eight Emmy Awards -- tied for the most all-time with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She also won one Daytime Emmy Award.

On the big screen, she won the Academy Award for her role as a gym teacher's neglected wife in 1971's "The Last Picture Show." She also appeared in three Mel Brooks films, "Young Frankenstein," "High Anxiety" and "History of the World: Part I." And she played Daisy May Moses in the 1993 film version of "The Beverly Hillbillies."

Leachman was introduced to a new generation of fans when she became the oldest contestant on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" in 2008. Paired with professional dancer Corky Ballas, she was 82 at the time. Her appearance led to a surge of new TV and film roles, including playing Maw Maw on the Fox sitcom "Raising Hope" from 2010 to 2014.

Leachman was born April 30, 1926, the oldest of three sisters, in Des Moines, Iowa. She began acting as a child and later studied drama at Northwestern University in Illinois, alongside friends Charlotte Rae and Paul Lynde.

After graduating from high school, Leachman enrolled at Illinois State University to study drama, and later, Northwestern University, where she was a member of Gamma Phi Beta. After winning a scholarship in the Miss America pageant, she moved to New York City to study acting under director Elia Kazan at the Actors Studio and was immediately cast on Broadway and in film.

Starting in the 1950s, she appeared in many TV programs, including a brief stint as Timmy's mother in the original "Lassie." Her role as Mary Tyler Moore's nosy and manipulative landlady, Phyllis Lindstrom, made her a star.

In addition to her busy acting career, Leachman raised five children -- four sons and a daughter -- with film director George Englund. Leachman and Englund were married for 26 years, before divorcing in 1979. Leachman never remarried and is survived by four of her children as well as several grandchildren.

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