Valerie Harper has died. The actress, best known for her role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, was 80 years old. Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009. Four years later, doctors discovered that she had brain cancer. At the time, Harper was only given months to live.
Harper was born on August 22, 1940, in Suffern, New York, and moved all over the country with her family when she was younger. She studied ballet and got involved in theater, eventually getting cast in a couple of Broadway productions. She landed her first television role in the 1959 film Li’l Abner. She did a couple of smaller on-screen things before landing her role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1970.
Harper is survived by her husband, Tony Cacciotti, and her only daughter, Cristina.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Was Diagnosed With Leptomeningeal Carcinomatosis in 2013 After Beating Lung Cancer in 2009
Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer back in 2009, which she was able to beat. A few years later, she was diagnosed with Leptomeningeal Carcinomatosis (LC). The condition usually develops as a metastasized cancer.
“LC is a rare complication of cancer in which the disease spreads to the membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord. LC occurs in approximately 5 [percent] of people with cancer and is usually terminal. If left untreated, median survival is 4-6 weeks; if treated, median survival is 2-3 months,” according to Medscape.
Although Harper was given three months to live, she was able to enjoy life for a few more years. It’s possible that Harper’s ability to keep herself going was thanks in part to a new chemotherapy drug that doctors started her on shortly after her diagnosis.
“I’m still here. I still have cancer, but I’m okay and most of my days are good,” she previously told People.
Harper’s doctors called her prolonged survival a “miracle.”
2. Her Husband Refused to Put Her in Hospice Care
Last month, Harper’s husband Tony Cacciotti posted an update on Harper’s health, revealing that doctors wanted him to put his wife on Hospice.
“I have been told by doctors to put Val in Hospice care and I can’t [because of our 40 years of shared commitment to each other] and I won’t because of the amazing good deeds she has graced us with while she’s been here on earth,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “We will continue going forward as long as the powers above allow us, I will do my very best in making Val as comfortable as possible. There are two special ANGELS on this planet masquerading as humans who live and work together, that have made it possible to have all of Val’s needs taken care of. For those of you who have been in this position, you will totally understand that ‘it’s hard letting go.’ So as long as I’m able and capable, I’ll be where I belong right beside her. Many, many thanks for your outpouring of kindness and support,” Cacciotti added.
Hospice care is offered (and often recommended) to patients suffering from terminal illnesses. Usually, the service, which focuses on a patient’s quality of life, is an option when the patient in the advanced stages of the given disease.
“Hospice care provides compassionate care for people in the last phases of incurable disease so that they may live as fully and comfortably as possible,” according to the American Cancer Society.
3. She Was Married & Had 1 Daughter
Harper is survived by her husband, Tony Cacciotti, whom she married in 1987. According to the Los Angeles Times, Harper and Cacciotti adopted their only child, Cristina, together.
Despite Harper’s grim cancer diagnosis, she previously told People Magazine that her secret to surviving was her husband.
“I’ve had a few seizures, and Tony watches me like a hawk, like a real caregiver. He’s been incredible. … Get yourself a fabulous husband or wife who’s really committed to you and you living. … Get yourself a Tony. Get your somebody who’s going to do it,” she added.
Harper was previously married to actor Richard Schaal from 1964 to 1978. Harper previously opened up about how actress Mary Tyler Moore’s experience with divorce actually helped Harper divorce Schaal.
“She taught me to divorce,” she told People Magazine in 2017. “I was very shocked because she hadn’t told anyone yet,” Harper said, adding that Moore “‘ignited’ her to make up her mind to finally end her own deteriorating first marriage, paving the way to her eventual union with Cacciotti,” People reported.
4. She Was Best Known for Her Role as Rhoda Morgenstern on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ & She Won 4 Emmy Awards
If you’ve been a fan of Harper’s over the years, you probably remember her most for her role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Her character was so popular, in fact, that it was given its own spinoff titled Rhoda.
Harper also starred in the 1980s sitcom Valerie and Valerie’s Family. Years later, she had recurring roles on shows like The Office and The Simpsons. She also starred in a few films such as Freebie and the Bean, The Last Married Couple in America, and Blame It on Rio.
Her very last role, on American Dad, featured her voice as recently as this year. The last time that she was physically on-screen was in 2016.
With dozens of credits to her name, it’s no surprise that Harper had won a few Emmy Awards — four, to be exact, over eight nominations. She was also nominated for a Tony Award back in 2010 for her role as Tallulah Bankhead in Looped.
5. There Is a GoFundMe Set up for Her Family
In July, Harper’s husband and her friend Deanna created a GoFundMe page “to help with the costs of her expensive cancer treatments,” according to People Magazine. Additionally, the GoFundMe was created to help make sure that Harper was living as comfortably as possible and try to take some added stress off of her husband.
“I am a friend of the family as I met both Valerie and Tony 20 years ago. I have a background in business theatre and have worked in marketing, community theatre and the Tony Awards in addition to relationships within the entertainment industry with a cancer awareness project I founded in 2010. I worked with Val and Tony on marketing, grant research and various behind the scene work with their show ‘All Under Heaven’ and over the years have assisted on various private events and gatherings as well as general and personal support. The funds raised will initially be transferred to my bank account once a week and electronically wired to Valerie Harper and Tony Cacciotti’s bank account with a documented report of amount of funds raised, GoFundMe fees and transfer fee (if applicable). Thank you so much for your love, support, and understanding,” Deanna wrote.
More than $60,000 was raised before donations stopped being accepted.
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