June 17, 2013 12:00 PM

In many ways Jean Stapleton seemed an unlikely TV star. “She was primarily known as a very talented stage actress,” says producer Norman Lear. “Even so, I knew she’d be a perfect Edith Bunker.” And after casting her in 1971 as the dim-witted foil to Carroll O’Connor’s bigoted Archie Bunker on the groundbreaking sitcom All in the Family, Lear was proven right. “She could take what was written and make it something special,” he says. Flawless comedic timing and the high-pitched voice she created for Edith (and refused to repeat in public once the show ended) turned her devoted “dingbat” into a television icon.

On May 31 Stapleton died at age 90 of natural causes. For her colleagues, her memory lives on. “Working with Jean was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” says Family costar Rob Reiner. Adds Sally Struthers: “My ‘mother,’ Jean, was a great friend for 43 years. I learned so much from her, about acting, motherhood and love.”

Married to director William Putch for 25 years until his death in 1983, Stapleton had two children who cherish her legacy. “Being the children of a beloved mother on television means sharing the spirit of who Jean Stapleton was,” her son and daughter John and Pamela Putch said in a statement. “It is with great love and heavy hearts that we say farewell to our collective Mother with a capital M.”

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