Culture Trips

Cloris Leachman, who played Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, dies at age 94 | Film

Cloris Leachman, a character actor whose depth of talent brought her an Oscar for the The Last Picture Show and Emmys for her comedic work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and other TV series, has died. She was 94.

Leachman died of natural causes at her home in Encinitas, California, her publicist Monique Moss said Wednesday. Her daughter was at her side, Moss said.

Millions of viewers knew the actor as the self-absorbed neighbour Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She also appeared as the mother of Timmy on the Lassie series. She played a frontier prostitute in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a crime spree family member in Crazy Mama, and the infamous Frau Blücher in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.

Born in Iowa in 1926, Leachman began her performing career with plays and beauty pageants during her teens. She began appearing in small television and film roles after winning a place in the 1946 Miss America pageant and studying acting in New York City. Her early career included small parts in the Robert Aldrich film Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and the Paul Newman film The Rack (1956).

Her acting career only really took off in her 40s, when she was cast as Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1970. In the early 70s she was cast as Ruth Popper, wife of the high-school gym teacher in The Last Picture Show, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and based on Larry McMurtry’s book. The role would bring her the best supporting actress Oscar at the 1971 Academy Awards, a British Academy film award, and cement her reputation in the screen industry and her presence in the public eye.

In 1975, Leachman’s character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show – and Leachman herself – was given her own spin-off series, Phyllis, which ran for two seasons.

Leachman continued to work in television and film over the next 50 years, amassing close to 300 acting credits over her lifetime. She had recurring roles in the early 00s television series Raising Hope, the 2019 revival of Mad About You, and the adaptation Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods. Her role as Grandma Ida in Malcolm in the Middle from 2001-2006 was one of her most popular, netting her two Emmy awards and a slew of nominations.

In 1977 she appeared in an episode of The Muppet Show. She also performed as a voice actor in the 1986 My Little Pony movie, the 1994 animation A Troll in Central Park, the English dubbing of Hayao Miyazaki’s 1986 Castle in the Sky, and an episode of The Simpsons.

Leachman worked frequently with Mel Brooks, appearing in Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety (1977) and History of the World, Part I (1981).

Brooks paid tribute to Leachman on Wednesday on Twitter, calling her “insanely talented”.

“Every time I hear a horse whinny I will forever think of Cloris’ unforgettable Frau Blücher. She is irreplaceable,” Brooks said.

Leachman holds the record for the most Primetime Emmy acting nominations in history, with 22, and she is tied for the most awarded: she has eight Primetime Emmys to her name (a record later equalled by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), as well as one Daytime Emmy.

Other members of the screen industry paid tribute to Leachman’s talent and humour on social media on Wednesday.

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