Valerie Harper, Star Of ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ And ‘Rhoda, died on Friday At 80 after a long fight with cancer. 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 started her job as a dancer on Broadway at Radio City Music Hall, then transitioned into theater and improv comedy before ultimately rising to stardom as Rhoda Morgenstern on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” earning her a Golden Globe and four Emmys.
On “Mary Tyler Moore,” the Rhoda character complained about not being able to obtain 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 immediately fell in love with Joe, a production foreman acted by David Groh.
Before landing her breakthrough role in 1970 when she entered the cast of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” as Mary’s best friend and neighbor.
Harper also appeared on Melissa & Joey, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, 2 Broke Girls and Children’s Hospital, among other roles, and did voice work in The Simpson and American Dad.
“Rhoda’s Wedding” won the sitcom big ratings but the authors soon found out the audience liked Rhoda single and complaining about men and in a rare move for the time had her split, Joe.
Later, Harper returned to the stage, appearing in many Broadway movies including a Tony nomination for her performance as gravely-voiced diva Tallulah Bankhead. She additionally guest-starred on many programs, shows and comedies both including “Melrose Place,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Hot in Cleveland,” “Sex and the City,” and “2 Broke Girls” to mention a few.
In 1986, she starred in NBC’s “Valerie’s Family” but was ousted from the show after two seasons following a salary discussion. The show’s name became “The Hogan Family.”
She and Moore revisited their sitcom roles in a TV movie that looked at where the roles were decades later too.
In 2014, Harper told People magazine that her leptomeningeal carcinomatosis — a condition that occurs when cancer cells developed into the fluid-filled membrane enclosing the brain, known as the meninges — wasn’t progressing, though it was still fatal. “It’s looking better and better each test,” she declared.
Her struggle attitude was on display as she continued, “I don’t wake up saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to die.’ It’s a waste of time. It really is.”
Three years next, her oncologist said the magazine that it was “a miracle she’s still here.” Harper continued, “I still have cancer, but I’m OK and most of my days are good.”
Nevertheless, in July, a GoFundMe was started to appropriate money for Harper’s “unrelenting medical costs.” (It soon raised about $70,000, but was shuttered after members of the entertainment industry moved forward to help with expenses.).
Soon after, her husband, Tony Cacciotti, shared the grim update that doctors wanted him to put Harper in hospice care. He said he couldn’t “because of our 40 years of the shared commitment to each other” as well as “the amazing good deeds” Harper “graced us with while she’s been here on Earth.”
When the actor heard of her terminal diagnosis, she said People magazine that the totality of it “hit me like a sledgehammer.”
“‘Incurable’ is such a brief word. I was shocked,” she said.
“Cancer makes real what we try to obscure from ourselves,” Harper continued. “We spend our lifetimes thinking, ‘I’m never going to die.’ But cancer answers, ‘Hey, not so fast.’”
Although doctors gave her just three months to breathe, Harper challenged the chances. She continued to act in guest spots on television and played on “Dancing With the Stars.” She even starred in the live musical “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” till she had to be hospitalized before a July 2015 performance.
In November 2015, Harper published her first public appearance after that hospitalization at the Glioblastoma Multiforme Heroes Awards, where she said Entertainment Tonight, “Listen, I was supposed to be dead in three months, maybe six, because of the kind of cancer I had. It’s a toughie.”
Harper’s girl, Cristina Cacciotti, proved the news on Twitter after Valerie Harper died. The actress passed away at 10:06 a.m. Friday “after years of fighting cancer,” but the family did not quickly publish her cause of death.
Condolences poured in on social media. Ed Asner, who starred on The Mary Tyler Moore Show for its seven-season period, remembers Harper as “a beautiful woman, a wonderful actress, a great friend and with balls bigger than mine.”
Tristan Macmanus, who was joined with Harper on Dancing With the Stars in 2013, shared on Instagram “Valerie was one of a kind and I loved spending time with her and getting to know her,”
Harper was pleased with how her life turned out, pouring over Cacciotti’s gifts as a caregiver and enjoying her famous and lengthy career.
“I’ve had a wonderful career. “I got to be an actress. I was a dancer. And then I grew into this area of acting and that was just so wonderful,” she told.
Harper is survived by her husband, Cacciottin and their daughter, Cristina.