Mary Tyler Moore, whose witty and graceful performances on two top-rated television shows in the 1960s and ’70s helped define a new vision of American womanhood, died on Wednesday January 25 2016 in Greenwich, Conn. She was 80.
Mary Tyler Moore was born on Dec. 29, 1936, in Brooklyn Heights. After living in Queens and Brooklyn, her family moved to California when she was 8. Her father, George Tyler Moore, a clerk, and her mother, the former Margery Hackett, were both alcoholics and, Ms. Moore often said, imperfect parents. The eldest of their three children, Mary would outlive both her sister, Elizabeth Moore, who died of a drug and alcohol overdose in 1978, and her brother, John Hackett Moore, who died of cancer in 1992 after Ms. Moore had assisted him in an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
At 17, she was hired to appear in a series of commercials for Hotpoint appliances in the role of Happy Hotpoint, a caped dancing elf in a body stocking. The ad was shown during episodes of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”
In 1955, she married Richard Meeker, a salesman. That same year, she became pregnant, which compromised her effectiveness as an androgynous elf in a fitted costume. Her only child, Richard Jr., was born in 1956. He died in 1980 when a gun with a hair trigger went off in his hands; the gun model was later removed from the market.
Ms. Moore danced in various television shows before turning to acting. She had small parts on series like “Bourbon Street Beat,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Steve Canyon” and “Hawaiian Eye.” As the answering-service girl Sam on “Richard Diamond, Private Detective,” she was more heard than seen: Her character existed only in sexy close-ups of parts of her body, including her mouth, her hands and her elegant legs.
“The Dick Van Dyke Show” made Ms. Moore, who looked sylphlike in capri pants, a sensation. At Mr. Van Dyke’s behest, however, the series ended in 1966, at the height of its popularity.
Ms. Moore’s marriage to Mr. Meeker had dissolved by 1961, and she met Grant Tinker, who was then an executive at 20th Century Fox, in 1962. They were married, in Las Vegas, the same year. Together they formed MTM Enterprises, and in the late ’60s, they hit upon an idea for a custom-made showcase.
Mr. Tinker and Ms. Moore pitched a show to CBS about a recently divorced woman who was working and living on her own, and the network liked it. In the show, Mary Richards was an associate news producer at WJM, a local television station in Minneapolis.
In the 1980s, Ms. Moore admitted to having a drinking problem. It had started, she said, when she was starring in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and had finally reached untenable levels. She had had Type 1 diabetes since her 30s and in 2011 underwent brain surgery to remove a benign tumor.
Ms. Moore and Mr. Tinker divorced in 1981, although they remained friends. In 1983, she married Dr. Robert Levine, a physician, who is her only immediate survivor. The couple lived in Manhattan and on a farm in upstate New York.
Outside her performing career, she was chairwoman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International and spoke openly about her own struggle with the disease, diagnosed in the 1960s. A vegetarian, she was also an outspoken proponent of animal welfare, and she established funds for arts scholarships.