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Mary Tyler Moore, a dancer turned award-winning actress who captivated a generation of American women, died on Wednesday at the age of 80. She passed away in Greenwich, Conn., of cardiopulmonary arrest, after contracting Pneumonia.
Best known for her iconic role as Mary Richards in the insanely popular Mary Tyler Moore Show, she portrayed a young, single woman breaking into the male-dominated world of the TV news business. The character exemplified the modern, liberated, working woman for a generation of young women in the 1970s.
Mary Richards was earnest, responsible, hard-working, intelligent, creative, but still very vulnerable and human—-the perfect foil through which legions of young American women heading into the work force recognized themselves, and their struggles, dramatized on screen with humor and a great sense of fun. Moore won seven Emmy awards over the course of her career, and four of them were for her role on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.
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In the 1960s, prior to her work on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, she starred opposite Dick Van Dyke on The Dick Van Dyke Show, playing Laura Petri, a naive, young housewife, married to Rob Petri, a funny ad executive during the Mad Men era. In many ways the role was the opposite of her later work. Though lovable and sweet, this earlier character lacked the independence and tough-mindedness of that independent newswoman to come, often breaking down in tears, and needing the shoulder of her tall, strong, albeit sometimes bumbling husband, to cry on. Nonetheless, the role was wildly popular, winning her two Emmy awards.
In a striking departure from comedy, Moore also won acclaim, and an Oscar-nomination, for her role in the film Ordinary People, in which she portrayed a cold, dysfunctional mother who lacked the empathy to relate to her son and husband following a terrible family tragedy. She also won a Tony award for her Broadway performance in ‘Who’s Life is it Anyway?’, in which she portrayed a quadriplegic who wanted to die.
Mary Tyler Moore pursued her career despite serious health problems. She had type I diabetes since her thirties, and alcoholism starting during her time on the Dick Van Dyke Show (it ran in her family.) She also had a benign brain tumor removed in 2011. She put her celebrity status to good use as a dedicated advocate for diabetes treatment and research. She publicly acknowledged her alcoholism in the 1980s, and attended the Betty Ford Center for treatment in 1984.
In addition to her diabetes advocacy, Mary Tyler Moore was an enthusiastic vegetarian who worked to promote animal welfare.