‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ Lost Four Cast Members in 2021

by Jennifer Shea

Betty White’s death on New Year’s Eve marked the fourth loss last year for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which saw three other cast members pass away in 2021, too.

Lou Grant actor Ed Asner, Phyllis Lindstrom actress Cloris Leachman and Murray Slaughter actor Gavin MacLeod all died in 2021 before White, who played Sue Ann Nivens on the show, passed away Friday.  

The last four surviving members of The Mary Tyler Moore Show remained good friends through the years, with some even going on to appear in other projects together. And they have spoken glowingly about their time together on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a comedy that ran from 1970 to 1977.

Mary Tyler Moore Show Cast Members Hung Out Together After the Show Ended

The end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show didn’t mean the end of the friendships that had formed on set. Some actors even went on to work together again. In 2010, White and Leachman appeared together in the film You Again alongside Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kristen Bell. And they were apparently on good enough terms to crack well-intentioned jokes about each other during press junkets.

“I’m so sick of Betty White,” Leachman joked when asked about White then. “Never liked her.”

No, but in all seriousness, she went on, she would be thrilled to have White on her then-new show, Raising Hope.

“Oh, wouldn’t that be funny?” Leachman said. “I have – she could make a souffle and I could open the oven. That’d be funny… Make her souffle go down.”

As for Asner and MacLeod, they were apparently like “brothers,” as Asner noted upon MacLeod’s passing in May. “Gavin was my brother, my partner in crime (and food) and my comic conspirator,” Asner tweeted then.

“He made everything easy,” Asner told Variety of MacLeod’s presence on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And not just on the set, but off the set, too. MacLeod and his wife intervened to help Asner when he and his wife were having marital difficulties.

In fact, MacLeod also helped set up Asner to get the role of Lou Grant. MacLeod had originally auditioned for the role, but he told series creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns that he thought he’d be better for the part of Murray instead. That “made the job easier for me to get,” Asner later said.

Betty White Recalled Her Start on the Show

Meanwhile, perhaps no one was closer than Mary Tyler Moore and White, who used to double-date with their respective husbands before the show even started. It was Moore who finally suggested that the producers audition White after they’d seen a bunch of other actresses and none had worked out.

In 2018, White recalled her start on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and she credited Moore with making the Sue Ann character work.

After White had taped her first episode as Sue Ann, she was nervous about how it had turned out. Then producers told her they were planning another script involving Sue Ann: a good sign.

“The next morning, Saturday, the doorbell rang around 11,” White told Closer Weekly. “When I opened the door, there were Mary and [her husband] Grant, grinning and holding some beautiful flowers” in a soufflé dish they’d used on the show.

“They had come by to say how happy they were that rotten Sue Ann would be coming back,” White explained. “The four of us had a very impromptu — and very festive — brunch.”

But there was one important player who had yet to weigh in: the audience. White knew how important it was that viewers also take to Sue Ann, and there, she said, Moore was a big help.

“No matter how funny the part is, if a guest character is someone the lead character doesn’t like, the audience can often get protective and not respond well to the newcomer,” White said. “It was thanks to Mary’s choice as an actress that Sue Ann worked.”

And now, with all of the main cast members having passed away, their performances on The Mary Tyler Moore Show will live on, delighting new generations of audiences in the process.