By Kellie B.
The lyrics to her show’s theme song asked a question that Mary Tyler Moore spent seven seasons answering: How will you make it on your own? “This world is awfully big, girl, this time you’re all alone,” the song explained. But Moore’s iconic character — news broadcaster Mary Richards — navigated this world just fine.
Although the Emmy-winning actress was known mostly for her eponymous show in the ’70s, she introduced herself to TV fans in the previous decade with her role as wife Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran from 1961 to 1966. Moore beat out more than two dozen actresses for this breakout role and earned many admirers who followed the actress to her own show, which ran from 1970 to 1977. Moore’s Mary Richards character —a strong, single associate producer for WJM-TV Minneapolis — became a feminist icon during a decade where career women had yet to become the norm.
In the pilot episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Edward Asner’s character — cranky boss Lou Grant — asks Richards some illegal interview questions, like why she isn’t married, and the plucky 30-year-old sets him straight. Later television actresses cited Richards as the inspiration for their own projects: Tina Fey said she developed her acclaimed sitcom 30 Rock from watching episodes of Moore’s signature show.
While comedy may have been Moore’s main forte, she also played some drama-based roles — including an Oscar-nominated role in the 1980 movie Ordinary People, where Moore portrays a mother struggling to cope with the accidental death of her oldest son and the suicide attempt of her surviving son. That same year, Moore faced a similar loss in real life, as her only son, Richie, died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound. Other difficulties Moore faced included the alcoholism of both her parents, the death of her sister to an alcohol and drug overdose, and her own battle with alcoholism, for which she got treatment in the 1980s. Moore — who died from pneumonia complications — also underwent brain surgery in 2011, when doctors removed a benign brain tumor.
Despite these difficulties, Moore could still, as her show’s theme song said, “turn the world on with her smile.” And we won’t forget her.
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