‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ actress was born in Des Moines.
Cloris Leachman, who won an Oscar for her role in the bleak coming-of-age movie “The Last Picture Show” and Emmy awards during a prolific television career that stretched back to the “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” has died at her home in Encinitas, Calif.
The ubiquitous actress always seemed to be working: She anchored her own “MTM” spinoff series “Phyllis” and starred in the hit TV shows “The Facts of Life,” “Rhoda,” “Touched by an Angel,” “The Ellen Show,” “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Raising Hope.” She had a recurring role on “American Gods” in 2016 and an acclaimed career in film, highlighted by her Oscar-winning performance in 1971’s “The Last Picture Show” and the classic tour-de-farce “Young Frankenstein.”
Leachman, who worked well into her 80s and became the oldest contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” in 2008, died Tuesday evening of natural causes, her publicist said. She was 94.
“It’s been my privilege to work with Cloris Leachman, one of the most fearless actresses of our time. 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,” said Juliet Green, Leachman’s manager. “You never knew what Cloris was going to say or do, and that unpredictable quality was part of her unparalleled magic.”
Leachman’s versatility was often praised and accentuated by a youthfulness that belied her age, which aided her later projects and brought a freshness to her roles as matriarchs and grandmothers.
“There’s more to me than nutty; there’s more to me than energy,” she told The Times 1986, still seeking the right adjective to describe herself.
Given her sweeping resume and penchant for outsized and offbeat characters, Leachman said she had only one credo: “Since my childhood I have disliked rules and for the most part have avoided them.”
Born in Des Moines in 1926
Leachman was born in Des Moines on April 30, 1926, the eldest of three girls. Her father ran a lumber mill, Leachman Lumber Co., and the family home was on the outskirts in town. She told The Times that her closest neighbor was the Lone Tree Filling Station.
Leachman said she slept with her sisters in the attic of their house, up a flight of creaky stairs, because of the national anxiety following the kidnapping of the 20-month-old son of aviator Charles Lindbergh Jr. Every noise in the house, she said, prompted fear. “My mother said, ‘Who’d want you?’” a remark she found oddly comforting.
Her mother encouraged her in the arts, but more for pleasure than for gain. Her family couldn’t afford a piano but she taught herself the instrument anyway by practicing on a cardboard drawing of piano keys. She had a radio talk show and acted at the community playhouse, which earned her a scholarship to study drama at Northwestern University and become a classical pianist. But academics overwhelmed her and she left school abruptly to work the pageant circuit — a move, she later said, that “seemed rather stupid.”
“My mother told me to walk straight and sparkle plenty,” Leachman told the Hollywood Reporter in 2016.