Cloris Leachman, Oscar & Emmy Legend, Dies @ 94

Cloris Leachman, the Oscar winner best known for her TV work on Mary Tyler Moore — and who racked up a record-setting nine Emmy wins — has died at 94, ExtraTV reports.

Her career lasted over 70 years. (Image via Playbill)

Leachman died of natural causes at home in Encinitas, California. Her daughter Dinah was with her.

She was Top 16 in Miss America — 75 years ago! (Image via Miss America)

Leachman's son told TMZ:

"She had the best life, beginning to end, that you could wish for someone... [She] left everyone with a lot of love."

Leachman was born in Des Moines on April 30, 1926, and began acting while still a teen. She was a Miss America contestant 75 years ago, using the exposure to gain a scholarship to study acting under the tutelage of Elia Kazan (1909-2003), one of the most honored directors of film and theater.

She debuted professionally in 1948 and never stopped working.

We will. (GIF via GIPHY)

Among early jobs of note, she was in the original run of South Pacific (1949) on Broadway, starred opposite Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) in a production of As You Like It (1950), and was one of the last surviving cast members of the film noir classic Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

It was in TV that Leachman specialized, and it was on TV where she shone brightest, appearing on dozens of early dramas before a stint on the original Lassie (1957-1958), a rare one-dimensional role as Timmy's homemaker mom.

This series was a bitch for creative-minded Cloris. (Image via CBS)

Leachman acted on the classic Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life" (1961), about a power-crazed child, and popped up on other favorites, from Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955, 1958 & 1962) to The Untouchables (1961 & 1962) to Route 66 (1962).

Leachman reprised her "It's a Good Life" role on a 2003 Twilight Zone reboot. The episode? "It's Still a Good Life." (Images via CBS)

In 1970, Leachman joined the cast of what would become a landmark series, Mary Tyler Moore, as Mary's comically snobbish downstairs neighbor, appearing on 48 episodes (1970-1977) as well as starring on 35 episodes of her own spin-off, Phyllis (1975-1977).

As meddlesome, manipulative, marvelous Phyllis (GIF via GIPHY)

She won two Emmys for her portrayal of Phyllis, winning eight Emmys, one Daytime Emmy, receiving one Emmy honor, and being nominated more than 20 times.

Bogdanovich promised Leachman she'd win an Oscar for The Last Picture Show. (Image via Columbia)

Her film work was less frequent, but almost always chosen to be challenging, and included the mega hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and the acclaimed Peter Bogdanovich (b. 1939) film The Last Picture Show (1971), for which she was awarded the Oscar as Best Supporting Actress.

Picking up her trophy from Gene Hackman (b. 1930) and Raquel Welch (b. 1940), the actress exclaimed, "I'm having an amazing life — and it isn't over yet..." Becoming emotional, she went on, "I've fought all my life against clichés and look at me, a hopeless cliché!"

Far from enduring an Oscar curse, Leachman continued to have the good fortune of a wealth of challenging roles, becoming one of the undisputed queens of the issue-oriented TV movie, including her Emmy-winning A Brand New Life (1973) and A Girl Named Sooner (1975).

Not a career highlight — but delicious! (GIF via GIPHY)

Thanks to her success on Mary Tyler Moore, Leachman turned, more and more, to lighter fare and broad comedy. She was Queen Hippolyta on an episode of Wonder Woman (1975), won an Emmy performing on an episode of Cher's (b. 1946) eponymous variety series (1975), and was one of many game thesps in The Muppet Movie (1979). For Mel Brooks (b. 1926), she was the Teutonic terror Frau Blücher in the Young Frankenstein (1974), kinky, anatomically dangerous Nurse Diesel in High Anxiety (1977), and Madame Defarge in History of the World: Part 1 (1981).

"He vas my boyfriend!" (Image via 20th Century Fox)

For Disney, she went daffy as a member of the ensemble comedy The North Avenue Irregulars (1979), and she uncannily resurrected Granny for the big-screen adaptation of The Beverly Hillbillies (1993).

Nurse! (GIF via GIPHY)

Through it all, Leachman demonstrated both a willingness and an ability to tackle any role.

In the '80s, she replaced Charlotte Rae (1926-2018) on The Facts of Life (1986-1988). Other series-regular roles include on The Nutt House (1989), Walter & Emily (1991-1992), Thanks (1999), The Ellen Show (2001-2002), Malcolm in the Middle (2001-2006), 83 episodes of Raising Hope (2010-2014), and the 2019 return of Mad About You (2019).

She has even drawn raves for her voice work, which stretches back to the '70s. Noteworthy work includes her parts in My Little Pony: The Movie (1986), Castle in the Sky (1986), on an episode of The Simpsons (1991), and both on The Croods (2013) and in the 2020 feature The Croods: A New Age.

At a 2014 Twilight Zone reunion at the Hollywood Show in Burbank with Bobby Diamond (1943-2019) (Image by Matthew Rettenmund)

Indefatigability became a signature part of Leachman's story. Past 80, she demanded the right to recreate her role as Frau Blücher in the Broadway production of Young Frankenstein — Andrea Martin (b. 1947) got the gig. To prove a point, she competed on Dancing with the Stars (2008-2009), and did so well (she came in seventh) as the show's oldest-ever competitor that Brooks promised she could step into the role — but the show closed on Broadway before her opening night.

Age never fazed the trouper, who had said in the first issue of Playgirl magazine in 1973, "I resist and resent labeling of any kind. It's like putting a lid on something, boxing it up, and the life leaves... Age is a state of mind."

To that end, she has at least two more films in the can, which will be released posthumously.

Leachman's beloved character on Raising Hope (Image via Fox)

Leachman was married to filmmaker George Englund (1926-2017) from 1953 until they divorced in 1979. They had five children, four of whom survive her.

Many fellow greats and many of her peers took to social media to mourn the loss of Cloris Leachman, none more poignantly than one of her old Mary Tyler Moore co-stars.

Ed Asner (b. 1929), whose 90th birthday she attended in late 2019, tweeted, "A picture from the last time I saw you. Always beautiful. Nothing I could say would top the enormity of my love for you. Until we meet again darling. #clorisleachmanrip."

1 Response

  1. Lovely article, the photos are great, thank you! Cloris was a unique lady, she has fans from multiple generations! I love that. Always felt that she loved what she was doing, and she loved acting.
    The Mary Tyler Moore show made no sense to me, I was too young (Now Mary Richards is a hero!). I just thought Mary and Rhoda were some version of my Mom and Aunt 🙂 No clue why, just four beautiful brunettes!
    But Cloris… she was fantastic on the MTM show. I really grew up with “The Facts of Life”, which seems below what she’d done in the past – but that’s part of why I believe she just LOVED to work, and that radiated out of her & pulled us in. She wasn’t a diva, although she played one (maybe more?) wonderfully!
    I am so glad I got to have Cloris Leachman in my living room. My home was not a happy one, no joy, lots of abuse. Cloris was part of escaping that.
    Thank you Cloris. So much.

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