Cloris Leachman, the Emmy- and Oscar-winning actress beloved by generations for endearing and comedic roles, died of natural causes on Tuesday in Encinitas, CA, according to her longtime manager Juliet Green. She was 94.
Leachman was perhaps best known for her role as Phyllis Lindstrom from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and her own subsequent sitcom Phyllis, but she also won an Oscar for her work in The Last Picture Show and had hilarious turns in the Mel Brooks movie Young Frankenstein, and on the TV shows Malcolm in the Middle and Raising Hope. She also appeared for Brooks as the evil Nurse Diesel in High Anxiety (1977) and as tavern owner Madame Defarge in History of the World: Part I (1987). Leachman was nominated 14 times for Emmys, winning nine awards and had the singular accomplishment of appearing on television in every decade from the 1940s to the 2010s.
“I don’t really think I’m funny. I’m sort of silly at times, I guess,” she told Emmys.com in 2015, adding: “When I went to Northwestern University, I already knew I wanted to be an actress. My friend Paul Lynde and I ran that school! He was so funny.”
“It’s been my privilege to work with Cloris Leachman, one of the most fearless actresses of our time,” Green said. “There was no one like Cloris. With a single look she had the ability to break your heart or make you laugh ’till the tears ran down your face. You never knew what Cloris was going to say or do and that unpredictable quality was part of her unparalleled magic.”
Nearly a decade ago, at the age of 82, Leachman competed on Dancing With the Stars. Shortly before turning 90, she played Zorya Vechernyaya, the eldest of three sisters who watch over the constellations, on the Starz fantasy series American Gods.
Over the years, she never lost her biting wit and quick retorts: During an interview on The Wendy Williams Show, they projected images of famous celebrities and asked her to respond. When Betty White flashed on the screen, Leachman simply said: “Slut.” The audience roared.
“Such sad news — Cloris was insanely talented,” Mel Brooks wrote on Twitter. “She could make you laugh or cry at the drop of a hat. Always such a pleasure to have on set. Every time I hear a horse whinny I will forever think of Cloris’ unforgettable Frau Blücher. She is irreplaceable, and will be greatly missed.”