Valerie Harper, Emmy-winning 'Rhoda' star, dead at 80

Valerie Harper, who achieved fame as Rhoda on the classic sitcom "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and continued as the character in a popular spinoff series, has died after a long battle with cancer, her daughter Cristina Cacciotti and family friend Deanna Buskey confirmed to CNN.

Posted: Aug 31, 2019 9:30 AM
Updated: Aug 31, 2019 9:30 AM

Valerie Harper, who achieved fame as Rhoda on the classic sitcom "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and continued as the character in a popular spinoff series, has died after a long battle with cancer, her daughter Cristina Cacciotti and family friend Deanna Buskey confirmed to CNN.

She was 80.

Buskey, a friend of the family for more than 20 years, said the family was not "providing details at this time."

Buskey, who first met Harper and her husband while working with them on her theater production of "All Under Heaven," helped launch a GoFundMe account for Harper's care earlier this summer.

In July, Harper's husband, Tony Cacciotti, posted a message on Facebook saying he would not follow the advice of his wife's doctors and put her in hospice care, despite her worsening condition. He said he would "do my very best in making Val as comfortable as possible."

Cristina Cacciotti said her mother died at 10:06 a.m. Friday.

Harper was cast as Mary Richards' wisecracking best friend, Rhoda Morgenstern, and became so popular that she was spun off into her own show, "Rhoda," midway through the flagship program's run. She won four Emmys for the role.

The Rhoda character was originally conceived as an antagonist to Moore's Mary, but was eventually fashioned into her outspoken friend. Harper recalled MTM executive Grant Tinker fighting to maintain those qualities in the face of early network concerns that Rhoda was too abrasive.

Harper returned to sitcoms in the mid-1980s with a self-titled show, "Valerie," which cast her as a mother raising her children. But she was fired after two seasons because of a contractual dispute with the studio and network, and wound up suing for wrongful termination, eventually receiving a settlement of $1.4 million.

NBC kept the series -- renaming it first "Valerie's Family" and later "The Hogan Family" -- with Sandy Duncan brought in to fill the void left by Harper's character, who was killed off.

In a 2009 interview with the Television Academy's Archive of American Television, Harper said had she been new to the business, the "difficult" label might have stuck to her. As it was, she said, "We went to court (and) they lost, big time. And you go on. ... It didn't harm my career."

The actress did remain active -- primarily in series guest work and made-for-TV movies -- and played Rhoda again in a 2000 TV movie, "Mary and Rhoda," which reunited the characters along with their grown daughters.

At the time, Harper recalled Moore telling her in regard to doing the movie -- which was initially pitched as a sitcom revival -- "Maybe we'll fall on our faces, but let's take a chance."

Harper battled lung cancer and was subsequently diagnosed with another form of cancer, leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, in 2013. Her family recently started a GoFundMe page to help with the cost of her treatments.

Born in New York, Harper began her career as a dancer -- performing at Radio City Music Hall in the 1950s -- and later joined the comedy troupe Second City. She was also heard on the comedy album "When You're in Love, the Whole World is Jewish," a follow-up to the popular 1960s sketch piece "You Don't Have to be Jewish."

Off screen, Harper was active in politics and charitable endeavors, advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment and championing a charity known as L.I.F.E., which stood for Love Is Feeding Everyone.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 512632

Reported Deaths: 10262
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34853555
DeSoto33162432
Hinds32556641
Jackson24830389
Rankin22442402
Lee16238242
Madison14874283
Jones14086247
Forrest13741259
Lauderdale12249324
Lowndes11286193
Lamar10644140
Pearl River9707244
Lafayette8827143
Hancock7835132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7204138
Monroe6989179
Pontotoc6970109
Warren6849178
Panola6746134
Neshoba6726210
Marshall6653141
Bolivar6440151
Union633897
Pike5924156
Alcorn5862107
Lincoln5525136
George510180
Prentiss500884
Tippah490282
Itawamba4829107
Scott477499
Adams4766125
Tate4748116
Leflore4723144
Copiah455895
Yazoo455591
Simpson4543117
Wayne442772
Covington432895
Sunflower4299106
Marion4265112
Coahoma4227109
Leake413790
Newton395581
Tishomingo381793
Grenada3775109
Stone365666
Jasper340166
Attala337790
Winston317792
Chickasaw313367
Clay311878
Clarke301195
Calhoun284449
Holmes271289
Smith268952
Yalobusha243747
Tallahatchie231453
Greene224749
Walthall221366
Lawrence217840
Perry213356
Amite209557
Webster205148
Noxubee188642
Montgomery181557
Carroll174441
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152639
Kemper144941
Choctaw136527
Claiborne134238
Humphreys131139
Franklin124929
Quitman107528
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96834
Sharkey65121
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 844951

Reported Deaths: 16115
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161002006
Mobile741871379
Madison53279732
Shelby38325368
Baldwin38068589
Tuscaloosa36009641
Montgomery34482781
Lee25550263
Calhoun22585518
Morgan22451406
Etowah20013517
Marshall18777316
Houston17727425
St. Clair16875358
Limestone16135218
Cullman16044303
Elmore15904294
Lauderdale14968306
Talladega14189299
DeKalb12967269
Walker12020380
Blount10714192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10157194
Coffee9414192
Colbert9334208
Dale9018191
Tallapoosa7254201
Russell707765
Chilton7018170
Escambia6955143
Covington6932195
Franklin6340108
Chambers5783142
Marion5401130
Dallas5285209
Pike5118109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369480
Butler3434100
Marengo342393
Monroe337066
Randolph334367
Pickens333188
Fayette330085
Henry320666
Hale318189
Cherokee317563
Crenshaw260477
Washington256952
Cleburne254460
Lamar251253
Clay250869
Macon244764
Conecuh192762
Coosa184947
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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