Mary Tyler Moore may have turned the world on with her smile, but behind closed doors the iconic actress went through several hardships in her life.
In 1980, the Dick Van Dyke Show star got the news that her son, Richie, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 24. It was later confirmed that the death was an accident.
Moore, who passed away at age 80 on Wednesday, opened up about the harrowing ordeal in her 1995 memoir, After All. On October 15, 1980, she received a 5 a.m. phone call from her then–estranged husband, CBS executive Grant Tinker, who told her the news.
“The phone awakened me. It was Grant,” she recalled. “‘If you’re standing, you should sit down …. It’s Richie. He’s dead.'” (Two years earlier, Moore’s sister Elizabeth died of a drug overdose.)
Richie was a gun collector and was attending the University of Southern California at the time. His roommate Judy Vasquez spoke about the incident in an interview with The Washington Post. “He was loading and unloading the short-barreled gun when it went off,” she said. “It was awful. He must have pulled the trigger. There was a big bang and he fell on the bed.”
Moore would later spread his ashes in the Owens River in California. “The water was clear and high as I knelt over it. I opened the container and emptied it into the rushing water,” she wrote in After All. “What was meant to be a prayer became an outraged demand. ‘You take care of him,’ I screamed at the sky.”
The Mary Tyler Moore Show actress welcomed Richie with her first husband, Richard Meeker, in 1961 when she was 18. Due to her busy schedule, she and Richie became estranged for some time.
“I demanded a lot of Richie. I was responsible for a lot of alienation,” she admitted. “There is no question about it. By the time Richie was 5, I had already let him down. When he needed me the most, I was busier and even more self-concerned than I had been when he was an impressionable infant.”
Richie, who eventually reconnected with Moore, would later seek treatment for drug abuse. In her memoir, Moore recounted the time he called her “frantic and sobbing” because he was in trouble with a drug dealer.
“I realized the extent of the tangle that was now my son’s life,” she wrote.
Moore went through other battles, too. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 33 years old and underwent brain surgery in 2011 for a benign tumor. On Wednesday, she passed away at a Connecticut hospital after being hooked up to a respirator for more than a week.
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