Mary Tyler Moore's Past Struggles and Triumphs: From Finding Sobriety to Her Battle with Diabetes
Despite achieving sobriety after a battle with alcoholism, and finding peace decades after her only son’s accidental death, Moore’s later years were filled with health woes – struggles she faced publicly and candidly.
Married at only 18 to Richard Meeker in 1955, Moore welcomed her first and only child, Richie, a year later. By 1961, she was starring as the titular character’s wife on The Dick Van Dyke show, but her marriage was over.
While Moore took the breakup in stride, Richie – who was 5 at the time – struggled, the actress told PEOPLE in 1995. He began having trouble in school, while Moore focused on her budding television career.
By the time the series wrapped up five years later, Moore was married again – this time, to Grant Tinker, with whom she formed production company MTM Enterprises.
Yet, the pair’s partnership lead to Hollywood success: MTM Enterprises created the Mary Tyler Moore Show and eventually produced hits like Lou Grant and St. Elsewhere.
It still wasn’t enough to masque the problems, however. Tinker and Moore separated in 1973 for just 6 weeks, before calling a “truce,” the star wrote in her book. Yet, Moore’s dependency on an alcohol increased as she and Tinker gave their romance another try.
“We always made these feeble attempts at self-counseling during the so-called happy hour, the only time we had courage enough to broach the subject,” she wrote. “In case there’s any doubt about the acute state of my alcoholism, and the insanity it produced, I can recall with sickening clarity that on more than one occasion I played Russian roulette with my car.”
Eventually, the strain lead Moore to begin an affair – and Tinker did likewise. The couple separated in 1980, and Moore retreated to Manhattan for a turn on Broadway.
“Not surprisingly, during that summer the distillation of my growing alcoholism took place,” she wrote. “Even though I was accomplishing things by myself, it was all so uncomfortable that I anesthetized myself at the end of the day. Nothing was so tough I couldn’t get through it until 5:30 or 6. Then the effects of vodka on the rocks made it all go away.”
That year would lead to further tragedy, though: Richie, only 24, accidentally shot and killed himself with a gun that was eventually taken off the market because of its “hair-trigger” instability. Richie wasn’t the first family member to meet a tragic end. Moore’s sister, Elizabeth, had died of a drug overdose just two years prior.
“I still feel as if I weren’t a good enough mother,” Moore admitted to Parade in 2009. “I didn’t break any rules. I didn’t cause my son any pain. But I did bring to my life some of my father, who was very controlling and very remote. I was working a lot. I wasn’t there enough.”
After formally divorcing Tinker in 1981, Moore dealt with her parent’s health scares – incidents that lead to a chance encounter with the man she would spend the rest of her life with, Dr. Robert Levine.
They wed in 1983, but despite marital happiness, Moore’s demons persisted. She entered rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic in September 1984, the Associated Press reported at the time.
Much of the concern was about Moore’s type 1 Diabetes, which she was diagnosed with in the early seventies after suffering a miscarriage.
“Normal blood sugar levels are to be somewhere between 70 and 110, mine was 750 and they were amazed that I was still walking around,” Moore said during a Emmy TV Legends interview. The actress said it was hard “to try to understand it because, back then, nobody really knew what diabetes was.”
Luckily, the ’84 stint at Betty Ford was successful: Moore told Parade she hadn’t had a drink since.
Her initial reluctance to open up about her health also shifted, with Moore becoming the longtime International Chairman for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation – an organization with whom she worked tirelessly.
With age, however, came more health struggles. In 2011, Moore elected to undergo surgery to remove a meningioma, a benign tumor of the lining tissue of the brain.
The next year, she told the New York Times that despite a life mostly without problems from her diabetes, she was having issues with “one eye in particular.”
“And if I fall, I generally break a bone,” she admitted.
In late 2015, Van Dyke told Larry King that Moore was “not well,” noting that diabetes had taken its toll and that Moore was “not even communicating.”
Still, through all of life’s turmoils, Moore remained steadfastly upbeat and positive.
“This has been a wonderful life. Absolutely terrific,” Moore told Charlie Rose in 1995. “There are very few things I would go back and do differently if I had that control.”