Mary Tyler Moore, whose witty and graceful performances on two top-rated television shows in the 1960s and ’70s helped define a new vision of American womanhood, died on Wednesday in Greenwich, Conn. She was 80.
Her family said her death, at Greenwich Hospital, was caused by cardiopulmonary arrest after she had contracted pneumonia.
Ms. Moore faced more than her share of private sorrow, and she went on to more serious fare, including an Oscar-nominated role in the 1980 film “Ordinary People” as a frosty, resentful mother whose son has died. But she was most indelibly known as the incomparably spunky Mary Richards on the CBS hit sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Broadcast from 1970 to 1977, it was produced by both Ms. Moore and her second husband, Grant Tinker, who later ran NBC and who died on Nov. 28.
At least a decade before the twin figures of the harried working woman and the neurotic, unwed 30-something became media preoccupations, Ms. Moore’s portrayal — for which she won four of her seven Emmy Awards — expressed both the exuberance and the melancholy of the single career woman who could plot her own course without reference to cultural archetypes.
The show, and her portrayal of Mary as a sisterly presence in the office, as well as a source of ingenuity and humor, was a balm to widespread anxieties about women in the work force.
“Mary Tyler Moore became a feminist icon as Mary Richards,” said Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, the author of “Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic.”
“She only wanted to play a great character, and she did so. That character also happened to be single, female, over 30, professional, independent, and not particularly obsessed with getting married. Mary had America facing such issues as equal pay, birth control, and sexual independence way back in the ’70s.”
The influence of Ms. Moore’s Mary Richards can be seen in the performances of almost all the great female sitcom stars who followed her, from Jennifer Aniston to Debra Messing to Tina Fey, who has said that she developed her acclaimed sitcom “30 Rock” and her character, the harried television writer Liz Lemon, by watching episodes of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Many nonactresses also said that Ms. Moore — by playing a working single woman with such compassion and brio — inspired their performances in real life.
Ms. Moore had earlier, in a decidedly different era, played another beloved television character: Laura Petrie, the stylish wife of the comedy writer played by Dick Van Dyke on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Also on CBS, the show ran from 1961 to 1966.
Ms. Moore was the lesser star in those days, but she shared Mr. Van Dyke’s background in song and dance, and as a comedy duo they magnified each other’s charm. Ms. Moore transformed and tamed the vaudeville style that had dominated sitcoms, perfecting a comic housewifely hysteria in Laura, made visible in the way she often appeared to be fighting back tears. Her “Dick Van Dyke Show” performance won her two Emmys.
“I heard something in her voice that got to me,” Carl Reiner, who created and produced the show, once said. “I think the fact that Mary and Dick were dancers gave the whole program a grace that very few programs have.”
Mary Tyler Moore was born on Dec. 29, 1936, in Brooklyn Heights. After living in Queens and Brooklyn, her family moved to California when she was 8. Her father, George Tyler Moore, a clerk, and her mother, the former Margery Hackett, were both alcoholics and, Ms. Moore often said, imperfect parents. The eldest of their three children, Mary would outlive both her sister, Elizabeth Moore, who died of a drug and alcohol overdose in 1978, and her brother, John Hackett Moore, who died of cancer in 1992 after Ms. Moore had assisted him in an unsuccessful suicide attempt.