Valerie Harper, ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ and ‘Rhoda’ star, dead at 80 after cancer battle

Valerie Harper — best known as Rhoda Morgenstern, the feisty, scarf-wearing best friend of Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spinoff, Rhoda — has died, eight days after her 80th birthday.

Harper’s daughter, Cristina Cacciotti, confirmed the news on Twitter. The actress passed away at 10:06 a.m. Friday “after years of fighting cancer,” but the family did not immediately disclose her cause of death.

My dad has asked me to pass on this message: “My beautiful caring wife of nearly 40 years has passed away at 10:06am, after years of fighting cancer.

She will never, ever be forgotten. Rest In Peace, mia Valeria. -Anthony.”

Condolences have been pouring in on social media. Ed Asner, who starred on The Mary Tyler Moore Show for its seven season run, remembers Harper as “a beautiful woman, a wonderful actress, a great friend and with balls bigger than mine.”

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.

View image on Twitter

“Valerie was one of a kind and I loved spending time with her and getting to know her,” Tristan Macmanus, who was paired with Harper on Dancing With the Stars in 2013, shared on Instagram. “I genuinely loved her and will miss her dearly X.”

Harper, who had successfully fought lung cancer in 2009, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2013 and given just three months to live. But she defied that prognosis: nine months later, the actress competed on Dancing With the Stars, and then reunited with her Mary Tyler Moore Show co-stars MooreBetty WhiteCloris Leachman and Georgia Engel on the Season 4 finale of Hot in Cleveland. (Moore died in 2017 and Engel died in April.)

Harper also appeared on Melissa & Joey, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, 2 Broke Girls and Childrens Hospital, among other roles, and did voice work in The Simpson and American Dad.

In 2014, Harper told People magazine that her leptomeningeal carcinomatosis — a condition that occurs when cancer cells spread into the fluid-filled membrane surrounding the brain, known as the meninges — wasn’t progressing, though it was still incurable. “It’s looking better and better each test,” she said. Her fighting attitude was on display as she added, “I don’t wake up saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to die.’ It’s a waste of time. It really is.”

Three years later, her oncologist told the magazine that it was “a miracle she’s still here.” Harper added, “I still have cancer, but I’m OK and most of my days are good.”

However, in July, a GoFundMe was started to raise money for Harper’s “unrelenting medical costs.” (It quickly raised nearly $70,000, but was shuttered after members of the entertainment industry stepped forward to help with expenses.). Soon after, her husband, Tony Cacciotti, shared the grim update that doctors wanted him to put Harper in hospice care. He said he couldn’t “because of our 40 years of shared commitment to each other” as well as “the amazing good deeds” Harper “graced us with while she’s been here on Earth.”

Sebastiane Ebatamehi

I am a Writer and Online Publicist, destined to give a voice to the silent echoes and hush whispers that are seldom heard