Mary Tyler Moore, known for the Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Tyler Moore Show, died on Wednesday. She was 80.
Though the actress was known for portraying sunny and upbeat characters on screen, her personal life was marred with tragedies. Moore, who was divorced twice (first from Richard Meeker in 1961 and later Grant Tinker in 1981) before marrying Dr. Robert Levine in 1983, struggled with alcoholism and suffered from type 1 diabetes.
But perhaps her biggest tragedy came in 1980 when her only child, son Richie, died at the age of 24.
Moore gave birth to Richie just one year into her first marriage with Meeker at the age of 18. By the time he was 3, she had steady work on TV. When Richie was 6, Moore and Meeker divorced. Six months later, she married Tinker, who had four children from a previous marriage.
The heavy workload of both parents left little time for their children. “I demanded a lot of Richie,” Moore later admitted. “I was responsible for a lot of alienation.”
In her 1995 memoir, After All, she wrote, “There is no question about it. By the time Richie was 5, I had already let him down. When he needed me the most, I was busier and even more self-concerned than I had been when he was an impressionable infant.”
Their relationship grew strained as Richie grew up and rebelled, and mother and son were estranged for a long period.
In 1971, Richie moved with his father to Fresno, California, where the teenager thrived and even talked of plans for college. But when Meeker was transferred out of town, Richie persuaded his parents to let him remain in Fresno on his own to complete his senior year. Soon afterward, he began to use drugs.
In her memoir, Moore recalled receiving a phone call from a “frantic and sobbing” Richie, who admitted he was in trouble with a drug dealer. “I realized the extent of the tangle that was now my son’s life.”
After receiving treatment, Richie turned his life around, moving back in with his mother and eventually graduating from high school. (Though Moore wrote that she was unable to attend the ceremony due to an acting job.)
Over time, Moore and Richie reconciled their relationship, and he even began landing some small acting roles on TV.
But in 1980, Moore received a fateful phone call and learned news that would forever change her life — her son was dead.
“On Oct. 15, 1980, at 5 a.m., the phone awakened me,” she wrote in her memoir. “It was Grant. ‘If you’re standing, you should sit down …. It’s Richie. He’s dead.”‘
Richie died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 24.
Richie, an avid gun collector, was toying with a gun called the “Snake Charmer” while watching TV in his bedroom when it went off. A formal investigation by the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office later confirmed that his death was an accident.
The “Snake Charmer” was eventually taken off the market because of its “hair-trigger” instability.
Moore recalled spreading her son’s ashes into the Owen River in the days following his death.
“The water was clear and high as I knelt over it,” she wrote. “I opened the container and emptied it into the rushing water. What was meant to be a prayer became an outraged demand. ‘You take care of him,’ I screamed at the sky.”
With the help of her psychotherapist, Moore began to deal with the tragedy. To keep going, she kept busy. More than 6,000 letters of condolence had come in. Hour after hour, Moore sat and answered them in her own hand.