Things You Never Knew About Mary Tyler Moore

On January 25th, 2017, actress Mary Tyler Moore died at the age of 80, leaving behind a successful career that included multiple Emmys, an Oscar nomination, and two iconic television shows. In honor of her legendary work, we're taking a look back at the unexpected and fascinating elements of Moore's life, some of which were completely the opposite from the characters she played on TV. Here are ten things you may not have known about "America's sweetheart."

She battled diabetes for decades

According to the Los Angeles Times, Moore was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1969. Though initially reluctant to speak out about her disease, she eventually became the International Chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a position she held for more than 20 years.

"When I was first diagnosed, I debated about how up front I should be about my diabetes, and whether telling colleagues might hinder my work as an actor," she said in 2006. "But I also realized that if I did speak out, I might be able to help others better cope and manage their diabetes. This was my thinking when I accepted the invitation to be the International Chairman of JDRF in 1984 and be in the vanguard of their efforts to find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research."

Unfortunately, the disease took a toll on her life in her later years. In 2012, Moore admitted to The New York Times, "I do have problems with my eyes, one eye in particular, and if I fall, I generally break a bone." Moore's eyesight continued to deteriorate, according to her former co-star, Betty White, who revealed in 2014, "Her eyesight is what the big problem is right now ... [She is] is almost beyond the point [of being able to see]."

The following year, Dick Van Dyke gave an update on Moore's condition, telling Larry King his former co-star was "not even communicating now. I don't know how bad that is, but it makes me sad."

She sought treatment for alcoholism

Even after her diabetes diagnosis, Moore drank heavily, to the point where she was eventually forced to seek treatment. "Even though my blood sugars were erratic, I sure drank every evening consistently from six o'clock," she wrote in her memoir, Growing Up Again: Life, Loves and Oh Yeah, Diabetes (via Express). "Inside, I was scared. I knew I'd gone over an edge."

In 1984, with the support of her third husband, Dr. Robert Levine, she entered the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, Calif. After that, she claimed to have never touched a drink again. "I went to the Betty Ford Center, and there are many such organizations now that can help people who—who are anesthetizing themselves," she told Larry King in 2001. "I think that's the closest I can come to explain what it's like, what it was like for me. Life was too painful to deal with. And I felt that everybody else could deal with it all right. But I couldn't. Like there was something missing in me. So, I was covering it with alcohol."

Her only son died tragically

In October 1980, Moore received the devastating news that her only son, Richie, had died from what would later be ruled an accidental gunshot. Moore wrote about the painful experience in her 1995 memoir, After All, during which she recounted the initial phone call from her then-husband, television executive Grant Tinker. "My sobs were those of panic. I called a friend to help get me on a plane to Los Angeles," she wrote (via People). "Maybe when the plane landed it would all be different—a mistake. I called Grant back for the details: Richie had been holding a gun. The wound, where? Face. Did he live for any time? Death en route to a hospital."

"A formal investigation by the Los Angeles Coroner's Office later confirmed that his death was accidental," she continued. "Richie collected guns and kept some on his bedroom wall. He had been toying with one of them, a gun called a Snake Charmer, when it went off. It was eventually taken off the market because of its 'hair-trigger' instability."

The death of her son continued to haunt Moore for decades. Speaking to Parade in 2009, she confessed, "I still feel as if I weren't a good enough mother. 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."

Her childhood wasn't ideal

Moore was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1936 to a strict father and an alcoholic mother, whom she later claimed "weren't the best of parents." "It was not an ideal home life," she told the Ottawa Citizen in 1999 (via the Los Angeles Times). The Times said Moore, whose family moved to California after World War II, split her time between living with her parents and with her grandmother and Aunt Bertie. Moore later claimed to the The Journal News that Bertie was the inspiration for Mary Richards, the character she played on Mary Tyler Moore (1970-77). "She sent me to dancing school, paid for the lessons, gave me singing lessons, told me I could do it," she said. "She encouraged me always to fight on and get what I wanted."

She wore a wig during the first season of Mary Tyler Moore

For years, American television audiences knew Moore for her Emmy-winning role as homemaker Laura Petrie, the wife of Dick Van Dyke on his eponymous '60s sitcom. In fact, the role became so iconic that, when Mary Tyler Moore debuted in the '70s, she worried that audiences wouldn't buy into her new role as a single, working woman. The solution: slap on a wig, which she wore throughout the show's first season.

"I was trying to get a different look from the Dick Van Dyke Show so that they wouldn't think it was Laura Petrie who has come in a new incarnation," she told CNN. "If a show is done well, if it is well written and well cast, you don't have too much to worry about. If you're doing it—really the best you can, people will go along with it." Sure, the wig may not have been great, but it least it was better than that infamous green dress.

She almost got set up with Frank Sinatra

In a 2009 interview with Parade, Moore let it slip that while she was separated from her second husband, Grant Tinker, she almost got set up with legendary singer Frank Sinatra. "Frank had his assistant phone me and ask if I would take a call from him," she recalled. "I said, 'Please, by all means.' For two days, no call. Then, Grant and I were out having dinner and thinking about getting back together. Not two feet away from us sat Frank Sinatra. He came over to say hello. I never heard from him after that."

"The only other man who ever looked at me the way Frank did was—and don't take this the wrong way—Pope John Paul II," she continued. "Both men seemed to look into my soul and instantly know me."

She enjoyed watching Fox News

Considering she became one of the great symbols of the women's liberation movement, it might come as a surprise to find out that Moore also became a fan of the conservative Fox News network. "When one looks at what's happened to television, there are so few shows that interest me. I do watch a lot of Fox News," she told Parade. "I like Charles Krauthammer and Bill O'Reilly." She went on to describe herself as "maybe more of a libertarian centrist" than a right-winger, adding: "If McCain had asked me to campaign for him, I would have."

Incidentally, Moore's political views caused a rift with her former Mary Tyler Moore co-star Ed Asner. "She's changed," Asner lamented to the Star Tribune in 2011. "She's a Republican...Last time I saw her, she said Sarah Palin was a great lady

She won her part on The Dick Van Dyke Show by a nose

According to the Los Angeles Times, Moore missed the chance to play Danny Thomas' daughter on The Danny Thomas Show (1953-65) because Thomas felt her nose was way too small compared to his. Ironically enough, her nose left a lasting impression, and when it came time to cast Dick Van Dyke's wife on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Thomas said to Sheldon Leonard and Carl Reiner, "Who was the kid we liked so much last year, the one with the three names and the funny nose?" The rest, of course, is history.

A walk on the beach got her cast in Ordinary People

At first glance, one wouldn't immediately think to cast Moore as the chilly, grief-stricken matriarch in the film adaptation of Judith Guest's heartbreaking novel, Ordinary People. But director Robert Redford took a chance on her, and Moore owes a lot of that to an innocent walk she took on a beach. "At that time I had a place in Malibu, and it was winter and I was sitting there looking out on the beach," Redford recalled to Entertainment Weekly. "I saw this lonely figure all wrapped up and walking slowly. The figure looked sad. On closer examination I saw it was Mary Tyler Moore—America's sweetheart. She was probably just cold, but the sadness hit me and stuck with me when I began casting. I went to see Mary and her [then] husband, Grant Tinker."

"Redford was warm and funny and very charming," Moore added. "He told me I was the one whose face he saw as he read the book. Beth was the character he said he most cared about, and he wanted her portrayed with sensitivity. And he wanted me. This was Robert Redford. How could I say no?"

She helped her dying brother attempt suicide

In 1995, Moore revealed that she husband Levine helped her ailing brother, John, attempt suicide during his painful battle with kidney cancer. "He called one day and said he was going to end his life," Moore told the New York Daily News. "He had tried the week before in the hospital and had failed, and they had revived him. When he was released from the hospital, he called and said he was going to try again." Moore recalled, "I couldn't argue with him. I just said, 'Please wait for me, I want to be with you.'"

According to the Daily News, Moore assisted by crushing pills her brother had into ice cream and spoon feeding them into his mouth. Her husband, "called the drug company that held the code for the morphine pump so that he could increase the dosage. During the five-hour ordeal, Levine pressed the pump button three times to increase the flow of morphine into his brother-in-law."

The suicide attempt, which was John's second, didn't work. The cancer eventually took his life in December 1992. Even so, Moore told the Daily News: "I would do it again."