Iconic actress Cloris Leachman has died at the age of 94 from natural causes, passing away in her sleep at her home in California. Leachman’s career spanned over seven decades, mostly in television, but also taking significant roles in film and on stage.
Born in 1926 in Des Moines, Iowa, Leachman competed in the Miss America pageant and won a scholarship which she used to study at the Actor’s Studio in New York under Elia Kazan. Kazan gave Leachman her first credited stage role on Broadway in 1948 in the play Sundown Beach. A year later, she was working as understudy to Mary Martin for the role Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, later taking over the role herself.
The bulk of Leachman’s career was spent in television, starting with various roles in early TV dramas and anthology series before moving into supporting roles. Her first major TV role was on Lassie, running from 1957 through 1958. But her breakout role on television was Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, for which she won two Emmy awards and had a spin-off series created for the character. She would continue on TV, both in recurring roles and in guest spots, through 2020. Over the course of her career, she received a total of 22 Emmy nominations and won eight times, a record she holds alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Leachman was no stranger to the cinema. Her first film role was in 1955’s Kiss Me Deadly, adapted from the Mickey Spillane novel of the same name. She would later go on to win Best Supporting Actress in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show. While not explicitly a comedic actress, some of Leachman’s best remembered works are her appearances in three of Mel Brooks’ films (Young Frankenstein as Frau Blucher, High Anxiety as Nurse Diesel, and History Of The World, Part I as Madame DeFarge) and more recently in Beerfest.
She is survived by four of her five children, along with seven grandchildren.