Legendary actress Mary Tyler Moore has died, her representative said on Wednesday.
Moore was married three times, most recently to Dr. Robert Levine. She had one son, Richard Meeker, but he died at a young age, and Moore never had another child.
Here’s what you need to know about Mary Tyler Moore and her son, the late Richard Meeker.
1. She Gave Birth to Him When She Was 18
Mary Tyler Moore married her first husband, Richard Carleton Meeker, in 1955 when she was 18 years old. Meeker was 28 at the time. In her book Growing Up Again, Moore describes Meeker as a “boy next door” (literally).
“And since he had a job (cranberry sauce sales manager) and his own apartment (as I said, next door), I accepted the invitation to get married on the condition that we move at least four blocks away from my parents,” she writes.
Their wedding took place not long after Moore graduated from Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. The couple had a child almost immediately, with Moore becoming pregnant a few weeks after the wedding.
Moore and her husband ultimately divorced in 1961, and she married Grant Tinker, a CBS executive, the following year. In a 1979 interview with Barbara Walters, Moore rejected the idea that her marriage to Richard Carleton Meeker was a failure just because they ultimately divorced.
“I think even if a marriage worked for four years, five years…if you’re happy during that time, that’s not a time of failure,” she said. “That’s a time of growth, of satisfaction, and having given and taken from one another, and that’s good.”
2. He Died in 1980 of an Accidental Gunshot Wound
Richard Meeker died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on October 14th, 1980. At the time, there were some false reports that Meeker had committed suicide; in reality, his death was accidental.
“Unfortunately, there were terrible rumors that Richie killed himself, but it was an accident,” Mary Tyler Moore told the National Ledger. “He was a gun collector, was cleaning guns, and one of them went off and shot him in the head.”
At the time of his death, Meeker was attending the University of Southern California. He lived off campus in a home with two roommates: 21-year-old Judy Vasquez and 23-year-old Janet McLaughlin. It was in this home that he died of the accidental gunshot wound. The gun that Richard Meeker had been handling has since been removed from the market, according to The New York Times.
Meeker’s roommate Judy Vasquez told The Washington Post at the time, “He was loading and unloading the short-barreled gun when it went off…It was awful. He must have pulled the trigger. There was a big bang and he fell on the bed.”
The year that Richard Meeker Jr. died, Mary Tyler Moore starred in Ordinary People, a movie in which she plays a woman who loses her son in an accident and whose other son attempts suicide. She later said in an interview that she took the role in part because it reminded her of her own life.
3. Moore Later Said She Regretted Being So Busy When Her Son Was Growing Up
When Richard Jr. was young, Moore was working on both The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and in her book Growing Up Again, she says that she wishes she had been around more.
“If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have pursued a career while I had a little boy to care for,” she writes. “My heart breaks when I think of the times missed, times with him. How predictable that without awareness I emulated my mother’s behavior towards me.”
Moore expressed a similar thought in a 1979 interview with Barbara Walters, saying that she regrets not fully taking in the joys of motherhood because she was so focused on her career. She also said that she wishes she could “have another stab at motherhood” because at that point she felt much more capable of raising a child.
“I think I was as good a mother as I could have been, but I think I was so wrapped up in myself, as you must be at 18, 19,” Moore said. “That’s still a very precious, growing period for you, and there I was with a baby who was also demanding full attention. I didn’t get all the enjoyment out of it that I could have.”
She also told Charlie Rose in 1995 that her relationship with her son had been evolving and that in the two years prior to Richard’s death, they had grown closer than ever.
“The happiness, especially the happiness between us, was growing, was evolving,” she said. “We had two wonderful years together where we understood each other and allowed each other to be who we were. To have had to cut that short is the worst shame.”
Moore also said that she can’t imagine a pain more all encompassing than losing a child.
4. He Was Working at CBS at the Time of His Death
In addition to being a student, Meeker was working as a messenger for CBS when he died. This is the television network that aired The Mary Tyler Moore Show from 1970 through 1977, and it was also home to The Dick Van Dyke Show.
After his death, Meeker’s coworkers at CBS praised him as a fine young man, with one of his superiors saying, when it was still unclear whether the death was intentional, “Nobody will ever make me believe his death was anything but an accident.” It later became clear that it was indeed accidental.
While in high school, Meeker also worked as a part-time assistant to the head still photographer at CBS Television, according to the book Growing Up Again.
5. Moore’s Sister Died of a Drug Overdose Two Years Earlier
The death of Richard Meeker Jr. must have been especially tough for Mary Tyler Moore considering she had just recently lost her sister, Elizabeth Ann.
Moore’s sister died of a drug overdose in 1978 at the age of 21. The coroner ruled her death a suicide, according to The Bulletin, but Mary Tyler Moore said that it was completely accidental. When Meeker Jr. died, a headline in The Bulletin read, “Second Tragedy for Actress.”
Eight years after Richard’s death, Moore lost her brother, John Hackett Moore, to cancer.
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