Helmond was born July 5, 1929, on Galveston Island in Texas. She acted from her late teens, moving to upstate New York to co-found a small theater where she and a group of friends staged plays for 10 years before she joined acting companies in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Winning a Drama Critics' Circle Award for her performance in the Off-Broadway play "The House of the Blue Leaves" (1971) led to renewed interest in Helmond for TV roles. She had previously appeared on TV in 1955's "Wine of Morning" and on an episode of "Car 54, Where Are You?" (1962), but a role on "Gunsmoke" (1972) became the first of many small-screen spots of successively increasing importance, culminating with her Emmy-nominated performance as Jessica on "Soap" from 1977-1981.
Scatter-brained Jessica with a younger suitor, Robert Urich, on "Soap"
"Soap's" Jessica meets not St. Peter, but Bea Arthur, at the Pearly Gates
In 1984, she was cast as Mona, the cool mother of uptight career woman Angela Bower (Judith Light) on "Who's the Boss?" It lasted until 1992, becoming her most famous role. She was also a recurring character on "Coach" (1995-1997) and "Everybody Loves Raymond" (1996-2004).
L-R: Sally Struthers, Helmond, Charlotte Rae & Bea Arthur parodied "Sex and the City" for TV Land in 2007.
Her more recent on-camera TV work was on episodes of "True Blood" and "Harry's Law" (both 2011).
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Helmond with "Who's the Boss?" co-star Danny Pintauro in the '80s and during a 2014 reunion
Helmond was used rarely but well in films, including a memorable turn as a headstone-kicking widow in Alfred Hitchcock's swan song, "Family Plot" (1976), and in the Terry Gilliam comedies "Time Bandits" (1981), "Brazil" (1985), and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998). In the loopy sci-fi world of "Brazil," she played a plastic surgery-addicted mom and in a famous scene is shown having the skin of her face pulled back manually by a doctor, a process achieved with prosthetics. That image has become a widely shared Internet meme.
Helmond's character getting a different kind of "Brazil"-ian
Her final appearance was in "Frank and Ava," based on the affair between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, which is coming to theaters this spring; she closes the trailer with a well-placed one-liner.
Among Helmond's many accolades in the theater — the medium she identified as her first love — she was Tony-nominated for "The Great God Brown" (1973) and was acclaimed for her performance in Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" in 2001.
Helmond, a longtime Zen Buddhist, is survived by her second husband, David Christian, to whom she was wed since 1962.
She was remembered fondly on social media by co-stars and famous fans alike:
Katherine Helmond has passed away.
My beautiful, kind, funny, gracious, compassionate, rock. You were an instrumental part of my life. You taught me to hold my head above the marsh! You taught me to do anything for a laugh! What an example you were!