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Pioneering TV actress dies at 80

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LOS ANGELES—Mary Tyler Moore didn't have it all on her 1970s sitcom but what she had was enough.

A husband and kids, long the stock TV recipe for female contentment, were absent from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Instead, Mary Richards combined work, friends, and lovers into an alternative version of a modern young woman's full life.

Feminism already had said it was possible. Mary made it mainstream with her charm and million-watt smile—showing America that an independent woman could be admired and embraced.

She was so inspiring that even those lacking her perfect balance of grace and, yes, spunk, imagined themselves achieving their own success.

Moore, who died yesterday at 80, “influenced my career more than any other TV role model,” NBC newswoman Andrea Mitchell posted on Twitter.

“She, indeed, turned on the world with her smile.”

Marlo Thomas, who played another single women intent on a career in the 1960s sitcom “That Girl,” saluted Moore and their shared achievement.

“I'm proud that we were in that ground-breaking sorority that brought single independent women to television,” Thomas said in a statement.

“She will be deeply missed.”

In downtown Minneapolis, where Moore's sitcom was set, fans laid flowers at the base of a statue that depicts the opening-credits scene in which she joyfully, triumphantly, throws her tam in the air.

Nichole Buehler, 35, who said she grew up watching the show with her great-grandmother, called Moore's character “a strong, independent” working woman.

Moore also was a daring actress whose talents extended beyond comedy, said Robert Redford, who directed her to an Oscar nomination in the 1980 family drama “Ordinary People.”

“The courage she displayed in taking on a role . . . darker than anything she had ever done, was brave and enormously powerful,” Redford said in a statement.

Moore, who gained fame in the 1960s as frazzled wife Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” went on to win seven Emmy Awards over the years.

As Laura, she traded in the housedress of countless sitcom wives for Capri pants that were as fashionable as they were suited to a modern American woman.

She wasn't perfect: viewers identified with her flustered moments and her plaintive cry to her husband: “Ohhhh, Robbbb!”

Moore's chemistry with Van Dyke was unmistakable. Decades later, he spoke warmly of the chaste but palpable off-screen crush they shared during the show's run.

They also appeared together in several TV specials over the years, and in 2003 co-starred in a PBS production of the play “The Gin Game.”

“There are no words. She was THE BEST! We always said that we changed each other's lives for the better,” Van Dyke tweeted.

But it was as the plucky Minneapolis TV news producer on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-77) that Moore truly made her mark.

Mary Richards was comfortable being single in her 30s and while she dated, she wasn't desperate to get married.

She sparred affectionately with her gruff boss, Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner, and addressed him always as “Mr. Grant.”

And millions agreed with the show's theme song that she could “turn the world on with her smile.”

The series ran seven seasons and won 29 Emmys—a record that stood for a quarter-century until “Frasier” broke it in 2002.

“Everything I did was by the seat of the pants,” Moore told The Associated Press in 1995.

“I reacted to every written situation the way I would have in real life,” she noted.

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show" spawned the spin-offs "Rhoda," (1974-78), starring Valerie Harper; "Phyllis" (1975-77), starring Cloris Leachman; and "Lou Grant” (1977-82), starring Asner in a rare drama spun off from a comedy.

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