They acted alongside her for seven seasons on the award-wining Mary Tyler Moore Show. And now, cast members from the hit CBS sitcom are speaking out about the death of their beloved friend and costar, Mary Tyler Moore, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 80.
Gavin MacLeod, who played Moore’s on-screen BFF Murray Slaughter, used a line from the show’s iconic theme song as a metaphor for the years they spent together.
“A line from our theme song was ‘Love is all around,’ and that’s what it was for five days a week for seven years straight on the Mary Tyler Moore set,” he told PEOPLE. “It was all because of Mary! She was professional; she was extremely creative with a terrific sense of humor and a gifted actress. She set a pace for all of us to follow.”
MacLeod, 85, said he considers his years working with Moore to be “a gift from God.”
“It goes with out saying what a wonderful loving and caring person she was to everyone who worked on the show,” he continued. “Mary was America’s sweetheart and she was mine also. I was the luckiest guy in the world just sitting next to her and looking at her beautiful face … and legs!
He also remembered one of his favorite episodes of the show, where Murray turned 40 and woke up thinking he was in love with Mary.
“Today, ‘sadness is all around’ for all of us and I will miss Mary … deeply,” he said.
Georgia Engel, a.k.a. ditzy delight Georgette Franklin Baxter, told PEOPLE Moore “was my beloved friend, I loved her very much. She helped launch my career. She will be missed greatly.”
“Mary was so wonderful and so full of love. The whole country feels like they lost their dear friend – not just her pals from [The Mary Tyler Moore Show]. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten from friends that didn’t know her but that take it as a personal loss because they grew up with her,” said Engel. “She let it be known that it was alright to be a certain age and not be married, to be a certain age and not have a date on Saturday night. She made it okay to have the joy of throwing yourself into your work.”
“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, 90, told PEOPLE in a statement.
She remembered the hard work Moore put into her roles, despite always appearing effortless. “[Valerie Harper] and I always had to rehearse and rehearse, to work things through, but Mary was always ready to go — thoroughly prepared.”
The two reunited on camera with Moore — and former costars Georgia Engel and Betty White — for an episode of Hot in Cleveland in 2013. “The last time I saw her was our Hot in Cleveland reunion. I had a feeling I wouldn’t see her again,” said Leachman, adding, “If I could see her one last time, I’d hold her in my arms and say, ‘We love you.’ ”
Reflecting on the many wonderful memories that she shared with her late friend and late costar, White — who acted alongside Moore on the MTM show from 1973-77 — took to Twitter to express her sadness. “Mary Tyler Moore, Grant Tinker, Allen Ludden and I had some of the best times of my life together,” White, 95, tweeted in addition to a picture of the group. “She was special.”
Harper, who played Moore’s best friend and upstairs neighbor Rhoda Morgenstern on the comedic series, told PEOPLE: “She was my acting colleague, my sister/soulmate, and above all, ONE HELL OF A GIRLFRIEND! … I will always feel privileged and honored with the amount of quality time I was able to spend with Mary. I’ll miss you ‘Mair.’ I will always be your co-pilot. I will always love you, darling Mary Tyler Moore.”
Moore’s on-screen boss Ed Asner called his costar “a great lady I loved and owe so much to” on Twitter, adding, “I will miss her. I will never be able to repay her for the blessings that she gave me.”
Speaking with PEOPLE, Asner said of Moore: “She was a queen but, she never demonstrated queenly privileges. Her generosity was quite noted. I was always pleased with the treatment and it was seven years of the yellow brick road. That’s how the Mary Tyler Moore show went.”
The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired on CBS from 1970–77. The show left behind a significant legacy, particularly when it comes to how women are portrayed on television. As Mary Richards, Moore was the unthinkable — a single career woman on television, out to “make it on her own” (as the show’s iconic theme song described), without the help of a man.
The show followed Richards, as a single woman emerging from a failed relationship, working in the big city (Minneapolis) at a small TV news station while balancing home life with her friends, rather than her family. Unlike similar shows including That Girl, Mary Richards would never be defined as a man. In fact, she would never have a long-lasting romantic relationship. She found fulfillment, instead, in her career — just like millions of women were doing across the country in the American workplace.
It was a progressive concept that marked a shift in popular and political culture — and would go on to influence a generation of women, including Oprah Winfrey, and inspire them to visualized a world for themselves outside of simply being a wife and homemaker.
The show was a commercial and critical smash — lasting sparring three spin-offs and winning 29 Emmy awards (including three for Moore herself, and outstanding comedy series three years in a row), three Golden Globes and a Peabody.
Moore is survived by her husband of more than 33 years, Dr. S. Robert Levine.