2021-01-27 23:26:36 UTC
By Carmel Dagan
Jan 27, 2021 1:59pm PT
Oscar winner and multiple Emmy winner Cloris Leachman, best remembered
as the delightfully neurotic Phyllis Lindstrom on "The Mary Tyler Moore
Show" and her own subsequent sitcom, died of natural causes on Tuesday
in Encinitas, Calif. She was 94.
"It's been my privilege to work with Cloris Leachman, one of the most
fearless actresses of our time," her longtime manager Juliet Green
said. "There was no one like Cloris. With a single look she had the
ability to break your heart or make you laugh 'till the tears ran down
your face. You never knew what Cloris was going to say or do and that
unpredictable quality was part of her unparalleled magic."
The daffy, self-absorbed Phyllis, a character she claimed was close to
her own persona, brought the actress two Emmys as a featured actress in
a series during the mid-'70s and made Leachman a household name.
Leachman also won a supporting actress Oscar in the early part of the
decade for a far different character, an embittered small-town
housewife in Peter Bogdanovich's elegiac "The Last Picture Show"; she
would later reprise the role in the film's less successful sequel
"Texasville." Both films were based on the writings of Larry McMurtry.
Overnight success for the actress, however, came only after two decades
of hard work in theater, television and some films. Leachman was in her
40s when stardom finally hit.
Leachman's pitch-perfect timing and effortlessness in comedy and her
unadorned honesty in drama was the result of many years honing her
craft and incorporated her own life experiences as a mother of five
children (by producer George Englund).
Her open, all-American look took her through several decades in a wide
variety of roles on Broadway and early television as well as more than
40 movies, where she moved easily from leading roles to character
The actress won a total of eight primetime Emmys, both for drama and
comedy, and one daytime Emmy.
The recurring character of Phyllis Lindstrom on "The Mary Tyler Moore
Show" not only made her a TV star but also gave her time to squeeze in
roles in film including "Lovers and Other Strangers," "The People Next
Door," "WUSA" and "The Last Picture Show," which brought her an Oscar
for supporting actress in 1971 in an upset over her nominated co-star
Ellen Burstyn. Two Emmys for the role of Phyllis were crowded alongside
one for drama in the ABC TV movie "A Brand New Life" (1973) and led, in
1975, to her own series, which lasted a couple of seasons.
Decades later she was still working, and flying high: Leachman was a
contestant on season seven of "Dancing With the Stars" in 2008,
becoming, at age 82, the oldest contestant to dance on the series, and
she was the grand marshal for the 2009 New Year's Day Tournament of
Roses Parade and Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, Calif.
During the 1970s, she did well by Bogdanovich's "Daisy Miller" and was
hilarious in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein"; she also appeared in
Brooks' "High Anxiety."
She was given more interesting work to do in television. She won a
fourth Emmy for a guest role on the variety series "Cher," and she
became a telepic staple during the period and did TV productions of
Lanford Wilson's "The Migrants" and Dorothy Parker's "Ladies of the
Corridor" on PBS.
Emmys five and six would come for ABC Afterschool Special "The Woman
Who Willed a Miracle" in 1983 and the SAG 50th Anniversary celebration
the following year.
She tried series regular work again, doing best with "The Facts of
Leachman continued work in TV movies, appearing in the miniseries
"Backstairs at the White House" plus "In Broad Daylight," "Little Piece
of Heaven," "Fine Things," "Deadly Intentions," "The Oldest Living
Graduate," "Advice to the Lovelorn," "Miss All American Beauty,"
"Dixie," "Mrs. R's Daughter," "Fade to Black," "Between Love and
Honor," "Miracle Child" and "Double, Double, Toil and Trouble."
In 1996 she appeared in the Los Angeles touring version of "Showboat."
During the 1980s and '90s, Leachman worked intermittently in films
including "The History of the World Part I," "Walk Like a Man" and the
1993 bigscreen version of "The Beverly Hillbillies" in the role of
She seemed to transition effortlessly and even embrace the
grandmotherly roles she found herself playing in the 1990s and 2000s.
Leachman recurred on "Malcolm in the Middle" from 2001-06 as Grandma
Ida and earned several Emmy nominations and two more Emmy Awards (in
2002 and 2006).
In 2003, she played the grandmother on the bigscreen in the romantic
comedy "Alex and Emma" and in the darker comedy "Bad Santa." She also
did voicework in animated movies "Beavis and Butthead," "A Troll in
Central Park" and the 2008 English-language version of the Japanese
anime "Ponyo" as well as TV's "The Simpsons."
It was hard to see any evidence that she was slowing down.
She was a series regular on the brief Ellen DeGeneres vehicle "The
Ellen Show" in 2001-02, recurred on "Touched by an Angel" and guested
on "Diagnosis Murder," "Joan of Arcadia," "Two and a Half Men," "The
Office," "Phineas and Ferb," "Hawthorne" and "Blue Mountain State." In
2010-14, she was a series regular on Fox's "Raising Hope," drawing her
19th Emmy nomination. (She was still regularly appearing in telepics as
On the bigscreen, she was much busier in the decade-plus after 2000,
when she was in her late 70s and early 80s, than in the previous
Her film credits during the period included (but were by no means
restricted to) "Spanglish" (2004), "The Longest Yard" (2005), "Scary
Movie 4" (2006), "Beerfest" (2006) and "The Women (2008). In the (2009)
anthology pic "New York, I Love You," she appeared in a poignant but
unsentimental segment as an elderly woman coping with the infirmities
of her even more elderly husband (Eli Wallach).
In 2011 and 2012, Leachman pressed forward on the silver screen in a
wide range of pics including "The Fields," comedy "Gambit," horror
movie "The Home" and action-dramas such as "The Story of Bonnie and
Clyde" and "Timberwolf."
Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Leachman received working experience as a
child at the Des Moines Little Theater. By age 15 she was appearing on
local radio stations. She won a special scholarship to study broadcast
drama at Northwestern, where she stayed for while before returning to
Des Moines to finish high school. She returned to Northwestern with a
theater scholarship this time but dropped out and entered a beauty
contest, eventually finding her way to the 1946 Miss America pageant.
Moving to New York, she landed a role in a quickie movie, "Carnegie
Hall," and just missed out on landing the female lead in the Broadway
comedy "John Loves Mary" to Nina Foch. She studied at the Actors Studio
and made her Broadway debut in 1948 in the short-lived production
"Sundown Beach." She attracted notice as Cecilia in a Theater Guild
production of "As You Like It" with Katharine Hepburn that ran for six
Her role in "A Story for Sunday Evening" brought her good notices in
1950, and she played Broadway for eight months in the 1954 Jean
Kerr/Eleanor Brooke comedy "King of Hearts." She also played Nellie
Forbush in a special revival of "South Pacific."
More steady training came via live television. She was a regular on the
early series "Charlie Wild, Private Detective" (1950-52), and she
excelled at bad girl roles. She also made guest appearances on TV
series including "Gunsmoke" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."
During this period she was seriously considered for the female lead in
Charlie Chaplin's bittersweet drama "Limelight," but the role went to
Claire Bloom. She then nabbed the role of a sexy hitchhiker in Robert
Aldrich's "Kiss Me Deadly." She also landed a small role in Rod
Serling's film "The Rack" in 1956.
But television was much more conducive to motherhood, so she took a
role as the mother in the "Lassie" series. Other TV work included
Tennessee Williams' "The Migrants" and George Gershwin's "Of Thee I
Leachman was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011.
"Cloris: My Autobiography" was published in 2009. She penned the
bestseller with George Englund, whom she divorced in 1979.
Survivors include sons Adam, George Jr. and Morgan, an actor; and a
The family requests that any donations in her name be made to PETA or
Last Chance for Animals.