ENCINITAS — Cloris Leachman, the prolific actress of stage and screen best known for her role as Phyllis Lindstrom on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its short-lived spinoff “Phyllis,” died in her sleep of natural causes at the age of 94, according to her manager.
Leachman died Tuesday at her home in Encinitas, her son told TMZ.
“She had the best life beginning to end that you could wish for someone,” he said. “She left everyone with a lot of love.”
Leachman was born in De Moines, Iowa, on April 30, 1926, and studied drama at Illinois State University, and later at Northwestern University. She competed in the 1946 Miss America pageant before moving to New York to study at the Actors Studio in New York City.
She appeared in numerous shows during television’s early era, along with some plum roles on Broadway, including a production of “As You Like It” with Katherine Hepburn. She balanced stage and television work with appearances in several memorable feature films, including “Kiss Me Deadly,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Last Picture Show.”
But it was her work on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” that cemented her in the minds of the public. Her Phyllis Lindstrom was both friend and nosy neighbor to Moore’s Mary Richards. Phyllis was portrayed as a slightly snobbish modern woman fined attuned to the latest trends in fashion, women’s lib and other trendy social causes of the early 1970s.
She often clashed with Mary’s other friend Rhoda, played by Valerie Harper.
In September 1975, CBS launched “Phyllis” hoping to capture the same success the network had with its spinoff “Rhoda,” in which Harper’s character moved to New York City. The show ran for two seasons before it was canceled for low ratings.
Leachman’s death leaves Ed Asner, 91, John Amos, 81, and 89-year-old Gavin MacLeod as the only remaining survivors among the cast of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the classic CBS sitcom considered one of the best and most influential shows in television history.
Asner took to Twitter on Wednesday to remember his former colleague.
“A picture from the last time I saw you. Always beautiful. Nothing I could say would top the enormity of my love for you. Until we meet again darling,” he wrote.
Leachman was also a favorite of Mel Brooks, appearing in the director’s “Young Frankenstein,” “High Anxiety” and “History of the World: Part I.”
The Motion Picture Academy also paid tribute to Leachman, tweeting, “Cloris Leachman was a comedy legend. From a groundbreaking role on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ to the films of Mel Brooks and her Oscar-winning turn in Peter Bogdanovich’s ‘The Last Picture Show,’ she never lost her ability to shock, delight and surprise us. She will be missed.”
She won eight Emmys and scored 22 nominations in her long career. Her 22 nominations are the most by any actor, and she is tied with Julia Louis- Dreyfus for most wins.
She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1971’s “The Last Picture Show.”
After the cancellation of “Phyllis,” Leachman had multiple appearances on “The Love Boat,” and a recurring role on “The Facts of Life.”
She was adept at drama and humor, even broad comedy, and it served her well as tastes changed over the years. Her late-career work included spots on “Malcolm and the Middle,” “The Simpsons” and “Bob’s Burgers,” and the films “Bad Santa,’ ‘”The Longest Yard,” and “Scary Movie 4.”
In 2008, she became the oldest person to compete on “Dancing With the Stars.”
In 2016, a 90-year-old Leachman told The Hollywood Reporter that her secrets to longevity included a healthy diet (she was a vegetarian) and always being ready to work. “If you’re not ready to live, at least you’re ready to work,” she said.