‘Mary Tyler Moore,’ ‘Rhoda’ Star Valerie Harper Dies At 80 After Battle With Cancer

Los Angeles News

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Actress Valerie Harper died on Friday at the age of 80, her family confirmed.

Harper, best known for her role as acerbic Rhoda Morgenstern on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and spinoff “Rhoda” was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009.

Born in Suffern, New York, Harper began her career as a dancer on Broadway before landing her breakthrough role in 1970 when she joined the cast of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” as Mary’s best friend and neighbor.

She received the Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy three times for her work on the “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Her beloved role led to a spin-off series Rhoda in which she also received an Emmy — this time as a lead actress.

On “Mary Tyler Moore,” the Rhoda character complained about not being able to find a good man and her weight. The writers of “Rhoda” capitalized on Harper’s real-life weight loss, moved her to New York and she quickly fell in love with Joe, a construction foreman played by David Groh.

“Rhoda’s Wedding” won the sitcom big ratings but the writers soon found out the audience liked Rhoda single and complaining about men and in a rare move for the time had her divorce Joe.

Later in her acting career, Harper returned to the stage, appearing in several Broadway productions including a Tony nomination for her performance as gravely-voiced diva Talullah Bankhead. She also guest-starred on many programs, dramas and comedies both including “Melrose Place,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Hot in Cleveland,” “Sex and the City,” and “2 Broke Girls” to name a few.

In 1986, she starred in NBC’s  “Valerie’s Family” but was fired from the show after two seasons following a salary dispute. The show’s title became “The Hogan Family.”

She and Moore also revisited their sitcom roles in a TV movie that looked at where the characters were decades later.

Harper was first diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009. In 2013, she announced that she was also diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. She was given three months to live.

Harper is survived by her husband, Tony Cacciotti and their daughter, Cristina.

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