Such a sad and unexpected death — Jessica Walter, the comic and dramatic actress whose career stretched back to Broadway in the early '60s and was capped off by an iconic portrayal on TV's Arrested Development, died March 24 in her Manhattan home.
Her death, apparently of natural causes, came less than two months after her 80th birthday, and just over a year after her Emmy- and Tony-winning husband Ron Leibman died at 82.
Jason Bateman, who played her son on Arrested Development (2003-2006; 2013; 2018-2019) — and who abjectly apologized for a widely derided cast interview with The New York Times in which he appeared to minimize her discomfort at having been verbally abused by co-star Jeffrey Tambor — wrote of her passing, “What an incredible career, filled with amazing performances. I will forever remember my time with her, watching her bring Lucille Bluth to life,” calling her “one of a kind.”
Deadline reported Walter's daughter, Brooke Bowman, who is the senior vice president of drama programming at Fox Entertainment, said in a statement, “It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of my beloved mom Jessica. A working actor for over six decades, her greatest pleasure was bringing joy to others through her storytelling both on screen and off. While her legacy will live on through her body of work, she will also be remembered by many for her wit, class and overall joie de vivre.”
Walter was born January 31, 1941, in Brooklyn. She studied at Manhattan's storied High School of Performing Arts ahead of appearing in numerous off-Broadway and Broadway productions, including Advise and Consent (1960), Photo Finish (1963), A Severed Head (1964), Neil Simon's Rumors (1988), and wrapped her Broadway career in the revival of Anything Goes (2011).
She made her TV debut in 1960, going on to make dozens of impactful guest appearances on a variety of classic series, including Route 66 (1963), Flipper (1964), Ben Casey (1964), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1964), The Fugitive (1966), Love, American Style (1969-1973), Mission: Impossible (1970), Cannon (1972), Ironside (1974), Columbo (1974), Hawaii Five-O (1974), Wonder Woman (1977), Quincy, M.E. (1978), The Love Boat (1978-1985), Knots Landing (1982), Murder, She Wrote (1985-1994), Law & Order (1995), The Big Bang Theory (2011) and many more.
She was a regular on several series over time, including the soap Love of Life (1962-1965), For the People (1965), Bare Essence (1983) and provided voices on Dinosaurs (1991-1994) and the long-running Archer (2009-2020).
She was also fun as hell on Tattletales in 1974 with her first husband, Ross Bowman:
Walter won the Emmy for the short-lived sleuth series Amy Prentiss (1974-1975), and was further nominated for appearances on The Streets of San Francisco (1977), Trapper John, M.D. (1980), and for her work on Arrested Development (2003-2006; 2013; 2018-2019).
As Arrested Development's sarcastic, martini-craving matriarch Lucille Bluth — whose wink was her signature — Walter also garnered two SAG nominations and became a pop cultural icon.
The show had such a cult following it was brought back twice, and Lucille was a major draw — even though she couldn't have been further from Walter's off-screen personality.
She told The Daily Beast in 2013, “I'm not like that at all, but to be Miss Vanilla Ice Cream and watch as this hero gallops into the sunset — I never got those parts. I've always played villainesses, but I've always tried to give them a heart."
Though less effectively used in films, Walter was Golden Globe-nominated for her memorable performance as a stalker in Clint Eastwood's directorial debut, the 1971 thriller Play Misty for Me.
She also appeared in the films Lilith (1964), The Group (1966), The Flamingo Kid (1984), and PCU (1994).
Walter is survived by Bowman (her daughter with director Ross Bowman, who is with us at 93), and by her grandson, Micah Heymann.
Her family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Guiding Eyes for the Blind.