Published: Sat, August 31, 2019
Culture | By Margie Dunn

Comedic legend Valerie Harper dies at 80

Comedic legend Valerie Harper dies at 80

Valerie Harper, who achieved fame as Rhoda on the classic sitcom "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and continued as the character in a popular spinoff series, has died after a long battle with cancer, her daughter Cristina Cacciotti and family friend Deanna Buskey confirmed to CNN.

Long after The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Valerie Harper often talked about how grateful and lucky she was for landing the role of Rhoda. She toured with Second City and moved to Hollywood, where she was called to audition for the part of Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

But Harper, who arrived for her audition some 20 pounds overweight, may have clinched the role when she blurted out in admiration to the show's tall, slender star: "Look at you in white trousers without a long jacket to cover your behind!"

Valerie Harper and Mary Tyler Moore on 'Rhoda.' Photo by CBS via Getty Images.

Last month, Harper's husband Tony Cacciotti wrote last month that he decided not to place Harper in hospice care despite doctors' recommendations.

Harper, who also was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009, stayed busy campaigning for cancer research and taking occasional acting and voice-over jobs as recently as 2019.

More than a year after her initial diagnosis, she said in a statement that she was not "absolutely cancer-free" but remained "cautiously optimistic about my present condition and I have hope for the future". And the thing is, everyone is going to die in one way or another.

Her career began in 1959.

Her character Rhoda was considered a feminist at the time.

The cause of death is not yet known.

Harper appeared on Broadway and in feature films including "Freebie and the Bean" and "Chapter Two".

Harper had revealed to People magazine in March 2013 she had leptomeningeal carcinomatosis - cancer cells in the membrane of her brain. Later in her career, she returned back to Broadway.

After divorcing Schaal, Harper married Cacciotti, with whom she adopted a daughter, Christina. In 2010 she was nominated for a Tony Award for her work in the play Looped.

At the time, Harper recalled Moore telling her in regard to doing the movie - which was initially pitched as a sitcom revival - "Maybe we'll fall on our faces, but let's take a chance". Rhoda may have joked about being frumpy and hating to diet, but she was also fashion forward: She wore hippie-chic outfits with colorful head scarves and hand-crafted jewelry, wide-legged trousers and long vests, but also sleek, contemporary dresses and suits in bold colors and prints.

Harper on her fight with cancer: "It's not so much about resisting death".

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