TV icon Valerie Harper has passed away following a long battle with cancer, her family tells ABC7. She had just turned 80 last week.
Last month, the "Rhoda" star's family started a GoFundMe page to help with mounting medical bills. Her husband of over 30 years, Tony Cacciotti, wrote on Facebook, "I have been told by doctors to put Val in Hospice care and I can’t [because of our 40 years of shared commitment to each other] and I won’t because of the amazing good deeds she has graced us with while she’s been here on earth. We will continue going forward as long as the powers above allow us, I will do my very best in making Val as comfortable as possible."
He went on to thank "two special ANGELS" for their extra help, and addressed Harper's fans by writing, "For those of you who have been in this position, you will totally understand that 'it’s hard letting go.' So as long as I’m able and capable, I’ll be where I belong right beside her."
Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009, and — right after publishing her memoir "I, Rhoda" — leptomeningeal carcinomatosis in 2013, the latter of which doctors said would take her life within three months. Instead, she responded well to chemotherapy and other treatments and even went back to work, including four weeks on "Dancing with the Stars" the same year her death was predicted. In 2015, she collapsed at a Maine playhouse during a run of "Nice Work If You Can Get It," her final stage appearance, and her health had declined in recent months.
Harper's career was launched on Broadway as a dancer in the musical "Take Me Along" (1959), and she would return to the Great White Way throughout her life, including with her Tony-nominated performance as legendary diva Tallulah Bankhead in "Looped" (2010).
She has appeared in movies since an uncredited debut in "Rock, Rock, Rock!" (1956), including another bit part in "Li'l Abner" (1959) and in Golden Globe-nominated performances in "Freebie and the Bean" (1974) and "Chapter Two" (1979).
It was television that made Harper a star. She created the role of wise-cracking, scarf-wearing New Yawkah Rhoda Morgenstern, one of the medium's most memorable sidekicks, on "Mary Tyler Moore" from 1970-1974, anchored the spin-off series "Rhoda" from 1974-1978, and reprised the character in the TV movie "Mary and Rhoda" (2000). She won four Emmys and a Golden Globe Award for her work as Rhoda, who once said of a piece of candy, "I don’t know why I should even bother to eat this. I should just apply it directly to my hips."
For two seasons, she was the star of the sitcom "Valerie" (1986-1987), but a high-profile dispute over pay led to her firing from her own show, which continued as "Valerie's Family" and then "The Hogan Family" through 1991. Harper was awarded $1.4 million for having been wrongfully fired, and retained a share of the show's profits.
Harper went on to make many guest appearances on such TV hits as "Melrose Place" (1998), "Sex and the City" (1999), "That '70s Show" (2001) and "Desperate Housewives" (2011), and to star in over a dozen made-for-TV movies.
She was married to actor Dick Schaal from 1964-1978, and wed Cacciotti in 1987. She is survived by Cacciotti and the daughter they adopted.