Sept. 3, 2019 — Best known as BFF Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, television, stage and screen actress Valerie Harper has died. She was 80.
Harper, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013, had been hospitalized in June after she was found unconscious backstage at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine, where she was performing, according to ET Online. At the time, Harper’s husband, Tony Cacciotti, said he had been told to put Harper in hospice, but he refused to do so and cared for her at home.
“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,” he wrote in a July Facebook post.
Harper died Friday, Aug. 30.
Harper was vocal about her diagnosis with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a cancer complication that affects how well your nerves work and has a poor prognosis. Lung cancer from 2009, which Harper was told had been cured, had spread to the meninges, the sac that covers the brain and spinal cord. In January 2013, doctors told her that she had 3 months to live.
Harper was diagnosed after falling ill during a rehearsal for Looped, a Broadway play about the colorful American actress Tallulah Bankhead. In an interview in TheNew Yorker, she said she knew something was wrong because she was slurring her words and her face felt numb — symptoms that can point to leptomeningeal carcinomatosis. After ruling out a stroke, doctors began tests that turned up the cancer.
That same month, Harper’s autobiography, I, Rhoda, was issued by Simon & Schuster. In the book, Harper detailed her illness and recovery from lung cancer.
In an interview with the Today show’s Savannah Guthrie in March 2013, Harper said she was open about her illness, saying, “it feels awful damn good to be open about it, face it, and see what you can do. If you die, you’re not a failure. You’re just somebody who had cancer. And that’s the outcome.”
Guthrie asked, “You’re not saying goodbye?”
“Oh no,” said Harper. “… What I’m saying is keep your consciousness, your thoughts open to infinite possibility, and keep yourself open to miracles.”