From TV Star to Executive: Mary Tyler Moore's Most Iconic Moments

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Mary Tyler Moore never set out to be one of the pioneers of television, but with her warmth and comedic chops, she cemented a legacy for generations of fans thanks to her groundbreaking work in the medium, both onscreen and behind the camera. Moore died on Wednesday from a cardiopulmonary arrest after contracting pneumonia, her publicist confirmed to ET. She was 80.  

Moore first rose to prominence on The Dick Van Dyke Show, playing the slightly daffy wife to Van Dyke’s TV writer character from 1961-66. She then branched out on her own with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, on which she became a feminist icon as a single, working woman. During the show’s run, from 1970 to 1977, she was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series every year and won a total of three awards. 

After her eponymous show ended, Moore deftly moved into films and Broadway shows, working with the likes of Robert Redford and Ben Stiller. All the while, her production company, which she formed with then-husband Grant Tinker, churned out successful shows for more than two decades.

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Moore dealt with her own personal demons and battled diabetes and other illnesses later in life, but to her many fans and admirers, she was always a combination of Laura Petrie and Mary Richards, no matter the role.

“I want to be remembered as somebody who always looked for the truth,” Moore said during a 1997 interview with the Archive of American Television. “Even if it wasn’t funny.”

Here are some of the iconic moments in the life of Mary Tyler Moore:

Photo: Getty Images/CBS

A Hollywood career begins: Moore’s first job in TV came at just 17 years old as dancing elf Happy Hotpoint in a series of commercials that ran attached to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Moore, a trained dancer in her youth, eventually left the commercials when she was pregnant with her only child, but it did open the door for several small roles on TV shows like Richard Diamond, Private Detective

The Dick Van Dyke Show: Moore landed the role of Laura Petrie on the advice of TV star and show producer Danny Thomas, who had rejected Moore for a part on Make Room for Daddy. At just 24, Moore developed an easy rapport with Van Dyke, who often said the pair had actual chemistry that made it seem as if they could be married and not just actors. Moore’s wardrobe of capri pants was seen as scandalous at the time, but the quip-heavy banter with her husband made them equals, a rarity among TV marriages of the time.

Moore meets Elvis: After The Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1966, Moore shifted into films, with her most memorable role in the period coming in 1969, when she starred as a nun opposite Elvis Presley in Change of Heart, the last theatrical release of Elvis’ long movie career. There were rumors of a relationship between the pair, but Moore wrote in her 1995 autobiography, “I was his last leading lady. The King would slyly say later on, ‘I slept with every one of my leading ladies but one.’ I don’t want to bust anyone’s cover, but I know who the ‘one’ is.”

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The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Moore’s role as news producer Mary Richards not only gave her the part of a lifetime, it also turned the actress into a feminist hero of sorts. Richards was a modern woman who put herself and her career first, and the show was not afraid to tackle controversial topics. But it was also not afraid of being side-splittingly funny, such as in “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” considered to be one of the great sitcom episodes ever. Moore’s hat toss during the opening credits remains a TV touchstone.

MTM, the executive: Moore married TV executive Grant Tinker in 1962, and in 1969, they formed MTM Enterprises, which became the home for several TV hits and film productions. MTM, which featured Moore’s cat Mimsie in the logo, was behind The Bob Newhart Show, Rhoda, Newhart, Hill Street Blues, WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere. The production company left Tinker’s hands in 1981 and went out of business in 1997. 

Moving away from Mary Richards: Moore shifted away from sitcoms after The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended and made a big splash in 1980’s Ordinary People, in which she played a brittle mother unable to cope with family tragedy. She garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Actress under the direction of co-star Robert Redford. She also appeared on Broadway in Whose Life Is It Anyway? and Sweet Sue before returning to the small screen for a number of TV movies, including Finnegan Begin Again and Stolen Babies, for which she earned an Emmy. 

Tumult and tragedy: Moore generally portrayed sunny characters, but she dealt with a dark side in her personal life. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 33, and troubles with alcoholism resulted in a stint at the Betty Ford Center. In 1980, her son, Richard, died when he accidentally shot himself in the head with a shotgun, leading to her divorce from Tinker. She married Dr. Robert Levine in 1983 and he was at her side when she died. 

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