Oscar-winning comedian Cloris Leachman dies at 94

Oscar winner and TV comedian Cloris Leachman passes away at 94

Leachman, 94, was also an Emmy and Golden Globe winner

Actress Cloris Leachman. Credit: Reuters File Photo

Cloris Leachman, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a neglected housewife in the stark drama The Last Picture Show but who was probably best known for getting laughs, notably in three Mel Brooks movies and on television comedies like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Malcolm in the Middle, died on Wednesday at her home in Encinitas, California. She was 94.

The death was confirmed by her son Morgan Englund, who did not give a cause.

Leachman entered the spotlight as a Miss America contestant in 1946 and was still in the public eye more than 74 years later, portraying offbeat grandmothers on television and film. In between, she won admiring reviews for her stage, film and television work, as well as Emmy Awards for performances in both dramas and comedies.

But she did not become a star until Peter Bogdanovich cast her in The Last Picture Show, his 1971 adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s novel about life in a small Texas town in the early 1950s. Her nakedly emotional portrait of a lonely middle-aged woman who has a brief affair with a high school football player won her the Oscar for best supporting actress.

She never received another Oscar nomination, but between 1972 and 2011 she was nominated for 22 Primetime Emmys and won eight.

She was nominated four times and won twice for her performance on the hit CBS sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Phyllis Lindstrom, the scatterbrained landlady of Mary Richards, the plucky TV news producer played by Moore. She went on to play the same role from 1975 to 1977 on the spinoff series Phyllis, for which she received another Emmy nomination and won a Golden Globe.

Although her focus for the rest of her career was on television, she also had some memorable movie roles, notably under Mel Brooks’ direction. In his beloved horror spoof Young Frankenstein (1974) she was the sinister Transylvanian housekeeper Frau Blücher, the very mention of whose name was enough to terrify any horse within earshot.

Leachman remained in show business almost to the end of her life. (“They are going to have to take a lead pipe and beat me over the head with it to get me to stop,” she told an interviewer in 2011.) In 2008, she finished seventh out of 13 contestants on Dancing With the Stars. At 82, she was the oldest contestant to take part in that competition.