American actress and comedy legend Cloris Leachman who won an Oscar-winner for her portrayal of a lonely housewife in “The Last Picture Show” and won eight Emmys for her work on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, has died at the age of 94.
Publicist Monique Moss said that Leachman died in her sleep of natural causes at her home in Encinitas, California. Her daughter Dinah Englund was at her side, Moss added.
Over the years, Leachman was most remembered for a comedy career which lasted decades, cemented by iconic roles in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Phyllis” in the 1970s all the way up to last year’s “The Croods: A New Age.” But Leachman’s dramatic performance in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 masterpiece “The Last Picture Show” not only earned her a supporting actress Oscar, but it also cemented her as one of the greatest actors of her generation. She always defied typecasting through her acting.
Starting as Miss Chicago in the Miss America Pageant and willingly accepted unglamorous screen roles, Leachman said to an interviewer in 1973, “Basically I don’t care how I look, ugly or beautiful. I don’t think that’s what beauty is. On a single day, any of us is ugly or beautiful. I’m heartbroken I can’t be the witch in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ But I’d also like to be the good witch. Phyllis combines them both.”
“I’m kind of like that in life. I’m magic, and I believe in magic. There’s supposed to be a point in life when you aren’t supposed to stay believing that. I haven’t reached it yet.”
Leachman, while recalling her busy days in live TV drama during the 1950s, where she demonstrated her versatility, including in roles that represented casting standards of that era, said, “One week I’d be on as a Chinese girl, the next as a blond cockney and weeks later as a dark-haired someone else.”
When she received the Oscar as best supporting actress of 1971, she delivered a rambling speech in which she thanked her piano and dancing teachers and concluded: “This is for Buck Leachman, who paid the bills.” Her father ran a lumber mill.
Despite her photogenic looks, she continued to be cast in character parts. In 1989, Leachman toured in “Grandma Moses”, a play in which she aged from 45 to 101. For three years in the 1990s, she appeared in major cities as the captain’s wife in the revival of “Show Boat.” In the 1993 movie version of The Beverly Hillbillies, she assumed the Irene Ryan role as Granny Clampett.
She also had an occasional role as Ida on Malcolm in the Middle, winning Emmys in 2002 and 2006 for that show. Her Emmy haul over the years totalled eight, including a trophy for Moore’s sitcom, tying her with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the top Emmy winners among performers.
With Young Frankenstein in which she portrayed as the fearsome Frau Blücher was a comedic delight, Leachman became a member of “the Mel Brooks stock company,” also appearing in High Anxiety and History of the World, Part I.
“Every time I hear a horse whinny I will forever think of Cloris’ unforgettable Frau Blücher,” Brooks tweeted, calling Leachman “insanely talented” and “irreplaceable.”
Salutes from other admiring colleagues poured in on social media. Steve Martin said Leachman “brought comedy’s mysteries to the big and small screen.” “Nothing I could say would top the enormity of my love for you,” posted Ed Asner of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. “Applause on every entrance and exit,” said Rosie O’Donnell.
“There was no one like Cloris. With a single look, she had the ability to break your heart or make you laugh ’till the tears ran down your face,” Juliet Green, her longtime manager, said in a statement.