Valerie Harper, TV's Rhoda, has died at 80

Tibrina Hobson/WireImage(NEW YORK) — Valerie Harper, the Emmy-winning actress who became famous for playing brash, shoot-from-the-hip New Yorker Rhoda Morgenstern on the classic 1970s sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show and her own spinoff series, Rhoda, died Friday at age 80, her daughter Cristina confirmed to ABC News.

The cause of death is not yet known.

In January 2013, Harper was diagnosed with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare condition that occurs when cancer cells spread into the fluid-filled membrane surrounding the brain.

After going public with the diagnosis in March 2013, the actress maintained the same outspoken, optimistic attitude that endeared Rhoda, and Harper herself, to millions of TV fans.

“Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral. Live this day,” Harper told Good Morning America then. 

Though doctors gave the four-time Emmy winner only three months to live, Harper continued to promote her memoir, I, Rhoda, and competed on the 17th season of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.  By August 2013, she seemed to be defying the odds.

More than a year after her initial diagnosis, Harper said in a statement that she was not “absolutely cancer-free” but remained “cautiously optimistic about my present condition and I have hope for the future.”

Valerie Kathryn Harper was born Aug. 22, 1939, in Suffern, New York, and began her career in 1959 as a dancer on Broadway.   After marrying improv performer Dick Schaal in 1965, Harper toured with The Second City improv troupe, which included Schaal and Linda Lavin, who would later star in the sitcom Alice.

Harper broke into television with a guest role on the soap opera The Doctors, but won her career-defining role as Rhoda after a casting agent spotted her in a play in Los Angeles in 1970.  Harper played Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show for four seasons, winning three Emmys and a Golden Globe, and for another four seasons on Rhoda, which earned her another Emmy.

After Rhoda ended, Harper moved on to the 1986 sitcom Valerie until parting two years later because of a salary dispute. She was replaced by Sandy Duncan and the series was renamed The Hogan Family. In 2000, Harper and Moore reunited for the TV movie Mary and Rhoda.

Harper continued working, taking occasional TV guest roles, and returned to Broadway in 2010, playing Hollywood film legend Tallulah Bankhead in the play Looped.  She battled lung cancer during the production but didn’t go public with her diagnosis until her memoir.  Though she underwent successful surgery in 2009, the cancer spread to the lining of her brain.

Harper is survived by her second husband, Tony Cacciotti, and their daughter.

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