Leachman, 90, acted opposite Moore on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s and later reunited with her — alongside former costars Valerie Harper, Georgia Engel and Betty White — on camera for an episode of Hot in Cleveland in 2013.
Reflecting on her time spent working and getting to know the veteran actress, Leachman remembers Moore’s sweet and kind spirit — and dubs her “America’s sweetheart.”
“My heart goes out to her husband, Robert — he was never more than a touch away from her. The picture that we all have of her, that’s how she was— sweet, kind, so tender, so delicate. She was America’s sweetheart,” Leachman tells PEOPLE in a statement.
Leachman, who appeared as Phyllis Lindstrom on MTM, adds, “Valerie and I always had to rehearse and rehearse, to work things through, but Mary was always ready to go — thoroughly prepared.”
Although they briefly reunited nearly four years ago for their guest appearances on Hot in Cleveland, Leachman says she “had a feeling” that it would be the last time she would see Moore.
“The last time I saw her was our Hot in Cleveland reunion. I had a feeling I wouldn’t see her again,” says Leachman, who adds, “If I could see her one last time, I’d hold her in my arms and say, ‘We love you.’ “
Moore is survived by her husband of more than 33 years, Dr. S. Robert Levine.