Groundbreaking actress and producer Mary Tyler Moore recently died in the company of her dear friends and husband at the age of 80 from cardiac arrest after she contracted pneumonia. She was famous for turning the world on with her smile as the iconic Mary Richards in the newsroom sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Moore is widely regarded as a pioneer for professional working women both on and off screen.

Although her childhood has been described as tumultuous, Moore loved the limelight and aspired to become a dancer. “I knew at a very early age what I wanted to do. Some people refer to it as indulging in my instincts and artistic bent. I call it just showing off, which was what I did from about three years of age on.” In the 1950s, the cheerful aspiring talent landed her first job in television dancing as the elf “Happy Hotpoint” for TV commercials promoting Hotpoint appliances.

It was Danny Thomas who discovered Mary’s acting abilities when she auditioned for the role of his daughter on The Danny Thomas Show. Interestingly, she did not land the part; as Thomas later explained, “She missed it by a nose…no daughter of mine could ever have a nose that small.” But Thomas remembered Moore, and brought her in to audition for the part of Laura Petrie, the wife of TV writer Rob Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Carl Reiner was certain Moore was right for the part and cast her in the role that would go on to catapult her to fame. The sitcom showcased her acting, dancing, and singing abilities and introduced the budding star to comedy. The show went for five seasons starting in 1961.

Soon afterwards, Moore and her then-husband Grant Tinker founded the production company MTM Enterprises. Together they produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show in which she played the iconic character Mary Richards–an independent, single woman navigating her career as a TV producer in Minneapolis. During the transformational decade of the 1970s, Richards’ conflicts included timely topics such as equal pay and workplace politics.

Moore’s beloved character was both strong and vulnerable, and proved to be aspirational for many female audience viewers. Indeed, Moore inspired women to be influential leaders in TV. In fact, two of her biggest fans were Tina Fey and Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey once told PBS, “I think Mary Tyler Moore has had more influence on my career than any other single person or force.” 

The Mary Tyler Moore Show raked in a whopping 29 Emmys. And MTM Enterprises went on to produce several more TV shows including Rhonda, Lou Grant, The Bob Newhart Show, and Hill Street Blues.

Fans of Moore’s trademark perky roles were introduced to a much darker character with her acclaimed work in the film Ordinary People. Directed by Robert Redford, she portrayed Beth Jarrett, a chilly housewife who alienates her son after her eldest son dies during a tragic accident.

Regarding her career, Moore reflected that she wanted to be remembered “as somebody who always looked for the truth, even if it wasn’t funny.”

Moore is survived by her husband Robert Levine.

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