The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Mary Tyler Moore

Mary Tyler Moore rose to fame on television in the 1960s. Born in Brooklyn, New York on December 29, 1936, Moore was a teen when she first expressed an interest in the performing arts, not long after her parents relocated to California (per Britannica). Her career would kick off when she began doing a few commercials and taking on small drama roles. Moore became sort of famous as Sam, the woman at the answering service on the private investigator series "Richard Diamond," starring David Janssen (per Television Heaven). Her voice was heard, but only her legs were shown on-screen. She went on to be very much on-screen on the very popular American television series "The Dick Van Dyke Show," in which she played Van Dyke's wife, Laura Petrie. The difference? She wasn't just another sitcom wife, wearing pearls and pouring coffee. According to Decider, the writers recognized her talent and showcased it repeatedly, to great effect (and great ratings).

Certainly a pinnacle moment in her career was the launch of her own production company, MTM Enterprises. The company, which she co-founded with her husband, Grant Tinker, would be behind her successful '70s program, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and also produce other sitcoms and popular programming of the '70s and '80s.

On her own namesake series, she broke more television ground by portraying a single woman, a professional with her own life, her own career. She had friends, and dated, but the emphasis was on an independent individual building a life for herself. Believe it or not, that was fairly stunning on 1970s network TV.

The loss of her son

When her series ended she continued acting in various projects and films up until 2013 (via Entertainment Weekly). Throughout her career she won numerous awards, including several Emmys. While she enjoyed a remarkable time as an actress, Moore battled several off-screen personal tragedies.

A little while after graduating high school, Mary Tyler Moore wed her first husband, Richard Meeker, in 1955 (per Biography). A year later the couple welcomed Moore's only child, a boy, whom they named after her husband but was affectionately known as Richie.

But Moore wouldn't get to spend as much time with her son as she hoped. Sadly, on October 14, 1980, her son took his life at the age of 24. According to The Washington Post, Meeker Jr. was playing with a shotgun whilst talking to a roommate. During an attempt to load, the gun went off and Meeker died. In the aftermath of his death, it couldn't immediately be determined if his cause of death was by accident or by suicide, though roommates said it was an accident. Moore would maintain his death was an accident in her autobiography "Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes."

Moore was a busy actress for most of her son's childhood, but the pair had grown closer when he became an adult. At the time of his death, she had recently filmed a movie about a mother losing a son — hitting very close to home. Moore would express regret at not investing more into her relationship with her son, per a 1995 interview with CBS.

A previous major loss

The death of her son wasn't the only loss Moore experienced. Just two years earlier, and at the height of her career, Moore was faced with the sudden loss of her only sister. Moore was the oldest of three children; she had a younger sister named Elizabeth and a brother named John.

In 1977, the last episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" aired, closing off what would become a legendary show for the actress. Things were going well for Moore and she would go on to do film acting. But sad news was near. In 1978, her sister died of an apparent overdose from ingesting alcohol and pills (via The Washington Post). She was 21. Of course, rumors spread that her sister's death was suicide and the coroner would confirm the death as such. But Moore maintained even back then, that it was an accidental overdose (via United Press International).

Moore's struggle with alcohol addiction

With the deaths of her sister and son, the actress dealt with significant emotional distress. She was also struggling through marriage issues. Before her son died, Moore and her husband, Grant Tinker, grew apart and were separated, per The Guardian. They would divorce a year after Meeker Jr.'s death.

Moore turned to alcohol. During her youth, she had grown up in a household with a mother who suffered from alcoholism (via Reuters). And throughout her second marriage to Tinker, Moore would quickly learn that she, too, would struggle with alcohol. Not only was she consuming alcohol on a daily basis, she was also doing the risky combination of making it with her prescription medication (per Closer Weekly).

But along with her addiction, Moore had a chronic illness. She was living with Type 1 diabetes, having been diagnosed with it in the '60s. As a result, she had to manage her illness by taking insulin.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

The death of her brother

After the death of her sister, Elizabeth, Moore only had one sibling left — her brother, John. But in the mid-'90s, not only did she lose her only brother, she was tasked with an attempt to help him take his life.

John Moore suffered from alcohol addiction just like his sister, per Los Angeles Times. He died of kidney cancer in 1992 at the age of 47. But prior to his death he badly suffered from his terminal illness and wanted to end his life. Moore revealed that her brother enlisted her help. He had failed in a previous suicide by overdose attempt. In her memoir "After All" (per Reuters), Moore said that she assisted her brother in a second attempt by crushing up painkiller medication and mixing it into ice cream that she fed him. The assisted suicide attempt failed, but John died of his medical condition three months later.

The end of a legendary career

In addition to all the loss, grief, divorces, and addiction Mary Tyler Moore faced throughout her life, she also dealt with her own personal health issues. She learned that she was diabetic at the age of 33, not long after marrying her second husband (via Closer Weekly). The chronic illness meant that she had to dedicate several moments of her day to self-administer her insulin injections. But she was also dealing with her own alcoholism around that time.

Still, she would live with the chronic illness for most of her life and even become a chairwoman for a juvenile diabetes organization in 1984. But as she aged, her health worsened. It began in 2011, when she underwent surgery to remove a benign tumor on the lining of her brain. The following year Moore was dealing with other organ conditions, including heart and kidney conditions, and even cut back on daily activity. But in 2014, her health continued to decline when it was revealed that she was in the early stages of blindness as a result of her diabetes, according to The Washington Post. Her final days of life came in early 2017 when she was admitted to a Connecticut hospital. She would die several days later on January 25, 2017. She was survived by her last husband, Robert Levine.