Valerie Harper, 'Mary Tyler Moore' and 'Rhoda' Star, Dead at 80

Valerie Harper, who charmed audiences as Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and her own spin-off, died on Friday, a week after her 80th birthday. Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 and was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer in 2013. Her family confirmed her death to ABC7.

Her family told ABC7 Harper died at 10:06 a.m. Friday morning. The cause of death was not immediately available.

Harper had been struggling since she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009. In 2013, she was diagnosed with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis and given three months to live, notes Us Weekly. The rare condition caused cancer cells to spread to membranes surrounding the brain.

However, Harper lived longer than expected, even making a triumphant appearance on Dancing with the Stars months after the diagnosis. She even continued to act until her death, most recently voicing characters on American Dad! and The Simpsons. She also made guest appearances on 2 Broke Girls, Melissa & Joey, Childrens Hospital and Hot in Cleveland.

In July, Harper's family launched a GoFundMe page to help pay for her medical expenses. Before the fund was shut down, fans donated more than $66,000 to the cause.

"Valerie has been grateful over the years for the medical breakthroughs along this difficult journey but insurance doesn't cover everything," her family wrote. "There are unrelenting medical costs on a continuous basis. Valerie is currently taking a multitude of medications and chemotherapy drugs as well as going through extreme physical and painful challenges now with around the clock, 24/7 care immediately needed which is not covered by insurance. This is just part of the daily cost that is without a doubt a financial burden that could never be met alone. This GoFundMe initiative from Tony, is to ensure she receives the best care possible."

"A beautiful woman, a wonderful actress, a great friend and with balls bigger than mine," Ed Asner, Harper's Mary Tyler Moore co-star, tweeted. "Her brilliance burst through and shined its light upon all of us. Goodnight beautiful. I’ll see you soon."

Harper was born in Suffern, New York on Aug. 22, 1939 and began her entertainment career in the late 1950s in Broadway musicals. However, it was not until 1970 when she earned her break-out role as Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Rhoda was Mary's neighbor, famed for her thick Brooklyn accent and her unique personality. In 1974, the character earned a spin-off, Rhoda, which lasted until 1978.

The character made Harper a household name and a perennial presence at the Emmys and Golden Globe awards during the 1970s. She won the Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress Emmy in 1971, 1972 and 1973 for Mary Tyler Moore, and an Emmy for Lead Actress for Rhoda in 1975. She also won a Golden Globe for Rhoda in 1975 and earned Golden Globe nominations for her roles in the films Freebie and the Bean and Chapter Two.

Harper remained a popular television guest star for the rest of her life and continued to appear in countless movies and shows. In 1986, she scored a lead role in the short-lived Valerie. Other credits include episodes of That '70s Show, Family Law, Sex and the City, Touched by an Angel and Melrose Place.

In 2010, Harper was nominated for a Tony for playing Tallulah Bankhead in Looped.


Harper is survived by her second husband, Tony Cacciotti, whom she married in 1987, and her daughter Cristina.

Photo credit: Getty Images