Mary Tyler Moore died on January 25, 2017 at 80 years old, and the news stunned me. I'd become so increasingly familiar with her and her work over the years that it seemed impossible she was already gone. I knew very well that she was not in the best of health — Type 1 diabetes had wreaked havoc with her heart and kidneys, in addition to causing her blindness — but she seemed somehow indomitable, in much the same way as her beloved characters.
This is a woman who survived the death of her son, an unthinkable tragedy that far too many families go through, yet she was known as this fierce spirit with a ready smile and a personality that wouldn't quit. I thought she was cool.
I was born in the 1970s, so it wasn't until reruns and syndication that I became familiar with the Mary Tyler Moore who became an icon thanks to her role as the television news reporter Mary Richards, a woman who put career and friends first over having a family. She made it OK to go beyond what was "normal" for women at the time, and though I didn't understand it then, I can reflect back now and realize just how groundbreaking she really was.
She was an icon before, thanks to The Dick Van Dyke Show, because she became a symbol of women who were "real." Moore eschewed the dresses normally worn by women on television at the time and wore capris, telling television executives that women didn't vacuum in dresses. The initial agreement was apparently that Moore could wear pants in one scene every episode, but she said that by the third episode, she was wearing pants far more frequently than was considered "acceptable" according to television standards at the time.
When she came into my life as Mary Richards, #MaryTylerMoore seemed to be the person I wanted to be. She blazed her own trail on the show and in real life, and won respect for it. Moore also showed that women didn't have to be bitches to get ahead; she fought the discrimination that was occurring with her head high and stuck by what she believed in, effectively telling women that they could take their place in the workforce on their own terms. It was really empowering, though I didn't realize it at the time.
Here's what others had to say about her passing:
Her Philanthropic Work
I also admired the way she supported the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation with such passion and tirelessness. I got why she was so supportive of the organization — as someone with diabetes herself, it made a lot of sense that she would throw her celebrity status behind such a cause — but she was eager to show the world that this was a cause that should be supported, for the sake of the population that could be diagnosed with it.
Type-1 Diabetes can strike five percent of the population at any point. In Moore's case, she was diagnosed at 33 as she was recovering from a miscarriage. While she was less than receptive about the sudden changes required in her diet in order to effectively manage the condition, Moore eventually came around and realized just how serious it was.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation also expressed their sorrow at Moore's passing:
Mary Tyler Moore was so much more than just an actress — she was a leader because she insisted on being more. While she clearly loved acting — even with failing vision, she signed on to do an episode of Hot In Cleveland with her old friends Betty White, Valerie Harper, Georgia Engel and Cloris Leachman in a reunion-style episode — she was willing to step to the forefront and talk about causes that mattered to her.
She testified before Congress about juvenile diabetes and lobbied for funding and she participated in public service campaigns. At the same time, Moore always struck me as a very private woman, and she was able to maintain that privacy well until she died.
Mary Tyler Moore was a whole different breed of celebrity, and that's why she will always be cool.
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