LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Four-time Emmy winner Valerie Harper died Friday after a long battle with cancer.
She became known, of course, and beloved as the acerbic upstairs neighbor Rhoda Morgenstern — first on the 1970s classic “Mary Tyler Moore” show and then on her own successful spinoff, “Rhoda.”
The episode where long-single Rhoda finally married was one of the highest-rated sitcom episodes of the 70s.
Both programs were filmed on Stage 2 of the historic CBS Radford Lot in Studio City — the lot is also the home of CBS2/KCAL9 News.
Legendary actor, director, writer and comedian Carl Reiner reflected on Harper’s life upon learning of her passing.
“Valerie was one of the golden girls as far as I was concerned,” Reiner told CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Jake Reiner, who also happens to be his grandson.
Carl remembered when Harper got her start on Broadway more than 54 years ago.
“Valerie Harper was an understudy to Linda Lavin in the only Broadway play I ever wrote and produced called ‘Something Different,'” he recalls.
Reiner adds, “Valerie was the kind of face you wanted to look at when things were not going right –you knew you had a sympathetic heart right there.”
Harper was preparing to go on tour with a production of “Looped” when in 2013 she learned she had terminal brain cancer and was told she had about three months to live.
The diagnosis came the same day her memoir, “I, Rhoda” hit stores — almost four years to the day she won a battle with lung cancer.
Harper decided to go public with the diagnosis, even though grim. She faced the news of her terminal illness with bravado. And she never lost her positive attitude and she never quit on herself.
She underwent experimental chemotherapy and talked about facing death — most memorably to People Magazine
“When the smoke clears, I’ll be standing,” she said, “until I’m not. And I’m ready for that.”
She also sounded upbeat and triumphant on “The Talk” six years ago.
“Don’t have the funeral until the day of the funeral,” she told the audience, “Live today.”
And by all accounts, she did just that.
“She carried her illness the way many of us wished we could,” says renowned entertainment reporter Jeanne Wolf.
She interviewed Harper countless times.
“She’d say ‘when I was young..I’d say [to myself], ah, Valerie you’re too fat, you don’t have the right boyfriend, you’re not a good enough actress.’ Now, knowing she was sick, she said, ‘I don’t sweat anything, everything is a laugh to me, everything is a pleasure.’ And I believed her.”
Harper is survived by her husband, Tony Cacciotti, and their daughter, Cristina.