Valerie Harper star of Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show dies at 80 | News Coverage from USA

Valerie Harper star of Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show dies at 80

Valerie Harper, who thought she would die from cancer years ago but survived to ply her madcap comic style for a new generation of audiences, has died. She was 80.

Her husband, producer/actor Tony Cacciotti, confirmed her death Friday to ABC. Her daughter Cristina Cacciotti, confirmed it to The New York Times. Longtime family friend Dan Watt confirmed her death to the Associated Press but said the family would not immediately release further details. 

Harper, best known for her role as Rhoda on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Rhoda,” died just eight days after her birthday. She had been battling cancer for years, and her husband said recently he had been advised to put her in hospice care.

Harper had overcome multiple medical crises over the years, including surviving after being told she was terminal.

In 2009, she survived lung cancer. Four years later, in 2013, she announced she had been diagnosed with a rare — and terminal — kind of brain cancer, with only months to live. 

In multiple media interviews, she explained she had leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare condition that occurs when cancer cells spread into the fluid-filled membrane surrounding the brain. 

Harper said her doctors suggested she may have only have three months left to live. “I don’t think of dying. I think of being here now,” she said to People magazine at the time, openly talking, crying and joking about what she was facing.

“Being here” turned out to last two years. “I’m the poster child for not believing everything I’m told,” Harper joked a year after her diagnosis. 

She was not “cancer-free,” but she was in a kind of remission, responding well to treatment, taking loads of pills and acing her scans. In September 2013, she appeared on “Dancing With the Stars. She had multiple TV roles in 2014 and 2015.

“I want to live,” she told everyone, “and as long as I’m here, every single moment is going to be as good as I can have it be.”

In May 2015, she told People magazine that she was at peace with her cancer diagnosis. 

In August 2015, she was rushed to a hospital after feeling unwell before an evening performance of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, Maine, and was reported to be in a coma. 

She wrote on Facebook after an overnight hospital stay that she is “happy to report I am not, nor have I been, in a coma.” 

In May 2016, she told Extra she was being cared for by her husband and was continuing to fight cancer with a “new pill.” In October 2017, she reiterated the same message to Broadway World.

In July of this year, a family friend created a GoFundMe campaign, shared to Harper’s official Facebook page, to help pay for Harper’s healthcare. .

“Valerie is currently taking a multitude of medications and chemotherapy drugs as well as going through extreme physical and painful challenges now with around the clock, 24/7 care immediately needed which is not covered by insurance,” the GoFundMe page said when it launched in July. By the end of that month, Harper’s husband announced doctors were recommending he put her in hospice care. 

“I have been told by doctors to put Val in Hospice care and I can’t [because of our 40 years of shared commitment to each other] and I won’t because of the amazing good deeds she has graced us with while she’s been here on earth,” he wrote on Harper’s Facebook page. She died more than a month later. 

Harper was born in Suffern, N.Y. — “I was born to suffer” — and began as a dancer at Radio City Hall during its heyday. She moved into acting, working in industrial shows, regional theater and the Second City comedy troupe of Chicago. Eventually, she made it to Broadway and feature films, until landing the part of Rhoda.

Her first marriage, to Richard Schaal, lasted from 1964 to 1978. She and her second husband married in 1987. 

Though Harper trod Broadway stages and sparkled on the big screen, it was on sitcom TV where she made her memorable mark. As zany/spunky, man-crazy, independent/single girl and upstairs neighbor Rhoda Morgenstern on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” she collected four Emmys and a Golden Globe. She also won Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year, and her “Rhoda’s Wedding” episode in 1974 set that year’s ratings record.

As much as the show’s eponymous star, Harper entertained millions and “turned the world on with her smile,” as the theme song went. “We all looked up to Mary but we identified with Rhoda,” Harper used to say. 

Contributing: Erin Jensen, Carly Mallenbaum, The Associated Press

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