‘Who’s the Boss?’ & ‘Soap’ Star Katherine Helmond Dies @ 89

Katherine Helmond, five-time Emmy nominee TV fans will always remember as scatter-brained Jessica Tate on Soap and libidinous Mona Robinson on Who's the Boss? has died.

Helmond with her younger hubby, David Christian, circa 1977 (Image via After Dark)

She was 89.

THR reports Helmond died February 23 at home in Los Angeles. The cause is reportedly Alzheimer's disease complications.

Helmond was born July 5, 1929, on Galveston Island in Texas. She acted from an early age, then moved to upstate New York, where she and some friends opened a small theater. She worked for 10 years in summer stock before joining prominent companies in both Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Helmond's first major acting award was a Drama Critics' Circle Award for her performance in the Off-Broadway play The House of the Blue Leaves (1971). This acclaim sparked renewed interest in Helmond for TV jobs.

Having previously appeared on TV in 1955's Wine of Morning and on an episode of Car 54, Where Are You? (1962), a role on the smash hit Gunsmoke (1972) became the first of many TV spots of increasing importance for her.

The cast of Soap (Image via ABC)

Helmond achieved national recognition as Jessica on Soap from 1977-1981, garnering Emmy nominations every season.

With Who's the Boss? co-star Tony Danza (b. 1957)

In 1984, she was cast in what would become her most famous role, as randy mama Mona, the cool mother of uptight careerist Angela Bower (Judith Light, b. 1949) on Who's the Boss?

This series, with a second indelible character created by Helmond, lasted until 1992.

My shot of Helmond with co-star Danny Pintauro in 2014 (Image by Matthew Rettenmund)

She was also a recurring character on Coach (1995-1997) and Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2004).

More recent on-camera TV work came on episodes of True Blood and Harry's Law (both 2011), and she was active in voice work for decades, including playing Lizzie in the feature films Cars (2006), Cars 2 (2011) and Cars 3 (2017) and all attendant video games and special appearances.

Helmond was used rarely but well in films, including a memorable turn as a headstone-kicking widow in Alfred Hitchcock's (1899-1980) swan song, Family Plot (1976), and in the Terry Gilliam (b. 1940) comedies Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). In not-so-far-future world of Brazil, she played a nip/tuck-addicted mom, and in a famous scene is shown having the skin of her face pulled bac, by a doctor, a process achieved with prosthetics. That image has become a widely shared Internet meme.

This effect had quite an effect! (GIF via Universal)

Her final appearance was in the film Frank and Ava, based on the affair between Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) and Ava Gardner (1922-1990), which is coming to theaters this spring:

Among Helmond's many accolades in the theater — her self-identified first love — she was Tony-nominated for The Great God Brown (1973).

Helmond, a Zen Buddhist, is survived by her second husband, David Christian, who is 10 years her junior, and to whom she had been wed since 1962.

She was remembered on social media by co-stars and famous fans alike:

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