Iconic 'Rhoda' Star Valerie Harper Dies At 80 After Fighting A Heartbreaking Battle With Cancer

Iconic 'Rhoda' Star Valerie Harper Dies At 80 After Fighting A Heartbreaking Battle With Cancer

She won three consecutive Emmys for best supporting actress for playing iconic TV character Rhoda Morgenstern.

Four-time Emmy award-winning actor Valerie Harper, who played Rhoda Morgenstern from Rhoda, has passed away, aged 80, according to People. Valerie Harper's daughter, Cristina Harper Cacciotti, announced the news on Twitter on behalf of her grieving father: My dad has asked me to pass on this message: ‘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. — Anthony. 

Valerie Harper as Rhoda/CBS


Harper was best known for playing the chronically single Rhoda Morgenstern. Valerie Harper played the character for almost a decade starting from 1970 with The Mary Tyler Moore Show before getting her own spin-off Rhoda that ran from 1974-1978. She won 4 Emmys from playing the popular TV character including Emmy for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress. She won Emmys for Best Supporting Actress for three consecutive years from 1971 to 1973.  



The actor was faced with a lot of health issues during the last ten years of her life. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 but it was detected at a very early stage and was successfully treated for it. In 2013, she was diagnosed with brain cancer and was told by her doctors that she didn't have long to live. Harper announced she had leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a condition that occurs when cancer cells spread into the fluid-filled membrane surrounding the brain. 



She would go on to live longer than the doctors had predicted. In July, a close family friend of hers had started a GoFundMe page titled “The Valerie Harper Cancer Support Fund" to help support the “unrelenting medical costs” of treatment and raised over $40,000 from friends, family and well-wishers. 


Tributes poured in for Valerie Harper and her character Rhoda since the news of Harper's death broke on social media. Actor Debra Messing tweeted: Valerie Harper made Rhoda feel like family. She was funny & full of heart. She was Mary’s colorful friend who made us sit up every time she walked through the door. And then, Valerie showed us what grace is when she told us & showed us she was living with cancer. And she lived.  Patricia Arquette tweeted: A sad loss Valerie Harper passes away at 80 #BeautifulPerson #SuperTalent Rest In Peace! 


The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, a spin-off based on Harper's character made the top ten shows list for years together. Harper once famously said, “People identify with Rhoda because she’s a loser." She would be forced to redact that statement but the audience related to the character more than any other on the show. In recent years, she also made appearances on American Dad!, The Simpsons and Two Broke Girls.



Valerie was born in Rockland County, New York and had dreamt of becoming a ballet dancer. She attended the Manhattan’s School for Young Professionals and debuted professionally at age 16 but she said that she felt “like a klutz next to those other skinny girls.” She started performing in broadway shows and took up acting seriously.


In 1970, she auditioned to play Jewish girlfriend of Mary Tyler Moore‘s character. “She croaked out one line and we knew we had what we’d been looking for,” said James L. Brooks, one of the creators of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, about Valerie’s audition. Valerie would go on to be the breakout star of the TV show and earned up to $25,000 per episode when she landed her own show Rhoda. 



Valerie Harper married actor Richard Schaal in 1964 but they divorced in 1978. She then married Tony Cacciotti, her former fitness adviser, in 1987 and were together till the end. Tony Cacciotti once commented that Valerie was very empathetic and always connected with everyone. “She talks to everyone at the supermarket,” said Cacciotti, “listens to their problems and tries to solve them.


When doctors told her she didn't have more than three months to live, Harper's fighting spirit surprised everyone.  “I’m ready. I’m ready to go. But I am not banking on anything, really, because we shouldn’t. We don’t know what’s around the corner. I think you just take each day and get the best out of it and do what you can and have fun.” Harper certainly did have fun and infused that same spirit into all of our lives through Rhoda Morgenstern. 

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