Cloris Leachman


1926-2021. Des Moines, Iowa, United States

While other actresses complain about the lack of roles for mature women, this incredibly versatile character player of stage and screen has never lacked for work. Involved in entertainment since her youth, the native Midwesterner performed on the radio while still in high school and headed for New York after competing in the 1946 Miss America pageant. The Actors Studio-trained thespian impressed audiences with her chameleonlike talents, racking up dramatic credits on Broadway, TV and occasionally film. Although she slowed her pace a bit in the 1950s and 1960s to raise her five children with producer-director George Englund, she found her greatest success well into her forties. In 1970, she signed on to Mary Tyler Moore as the title character's nosy landlord, a comedic role that earned her two Emmys as well as her own spin-off sitcom. During her tenure, she took home another Emmy for her serious turn as a middle-aged wife facing motherhood in A Brand New Life, the first of many successful TV-movies starring Leachman. She also snagged an Oscar for her devastating performance as a lonely wife in 1971's The Last Picture Show. Although that big-screen success led to a handful of plum parts — notably a trio of broad roles in three Mel Brooks comedies, including her hilarious turn as Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein, which showed off her knack for bizarre accents — the small screen and, to a lesser extent, the stage remained her mediums. From 2001 to 2006 she had a recurring role as the bitter Grandma Ida on Malcolm in the Middle, and, by 2006, she had a total of eight Emmy statuettes (plus one Daytime Emmy) and toured the country to great acclaim as the title character in the play Grandma Moses: An American Primitive. Also in the 2000s, she began popping up in movies more than ever before, usually playing outrageous grandmothers, from senile (Bad Santa) to boozy (Spanglish) to just plain disgusting (Beerfest). Leachman then turned in a memorable stint on the seventh season of Dancing With the Stars in 2008 and had the honor of being the oldest competitor to date. The dancing gig renewed audiences' interest in the now eightysomething actress, and she saw a career surge that she spun into more guest-starring roles on TV and film. Off screen, Leachman is an outspoken vegetarian and has worked with PETA on an advertising campaign.

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