Valerie Harper, best known for her portrayal of Rhoda Morgenstern — first on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and then on the spinoff “Rhoda” — has died at age 80.
Harper’s husband, Tony Cacciotti, confirmed her death with a message shared online by their daughter, Cristina: “My beautiful caring wife of nearly 40 years has passed away at 10:06 a.m., after years of fighting cancer. She will never ever be forgotten. Rest in peace, mia Valeria.”
Harper had battled cancer for the past decade. In July, Cacciotti started a GoFundMe page, citing “unrelenting medical costs.” As of Friday, that page had raised more than $66,000. According to the page, Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009, and in 2013, she was diagnosed with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, which occurs when cancer cells spread into the fluid membrane surrounding the brain.
In late July, Cacciotti wrote that doctors had instructed him to place Harper in hospice care, but said he couldn’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.”
“… For those of you who have been in this position, you will totally understand that `it’s hard letting go,”’ he wrote. “So as long as I’m able and capable, I’ll be where I belong right beside her.”
Harper shot to fame portraying New Yorker Rhoda Morgenstern on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” from 1970-74, with her character so popular that CBS created the spin-off “Rhoda,” which ran from 1974-78.
She collected four Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Rhoda.
Harper began her career as a dancer and also appeared on Broadway and in several TV movies including a 2000 reunion with Moore, “Mary and Rhoda.” In 2010, she earned a Tony nomination for her portrayal of actress Tallulah Bankhead in the play “Looped.”
Reacting to her death, her “Mary Tyler Moore” co-star Ed Asner wrote on Twitter, “A beautiful woman, a wonderful actress, a great friend and with balls bigger than mine. Her brilliance burst through and shined its light upon all of us. Goodnight beautiful. I’ll see you soon.”