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Stage and Screen Star Cloris Leachman Passes Away at 94

Eight-time Emmy winner entertained generations of audiences.

Image: Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives

February 1, 2021
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Cloris Leachman ’48, ’14 H died at her home in Encinitas, Cali., on Jan. 27 at age 94. The Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy-winning actress was best known for her comedic television roles in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Facts of Life and Malcolm in the Middle.

Born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Leachman acted in local children’s theater starting at age 7. She enrolled in the School of Communication at Northwestern, where she studied theater and appeared in the Waa-Mu Show.

Leachman stepped away from Northwestern to enter the world of beauty pageants — she was a Miss America finalist in 1946 — and later professional acting, first on Broadway in productions of South Pacific and As You Like It and then on TV and in films.  

Credit: Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives

Leachman won eight Primetime Emmy Awards — most prominently for her role as Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show — and received 22 nominations.

She had roles in dozens of films, including The Last Picture Show, for which she won an Oscar for best supporting actress. She had several roles in Mel Brooks films, including History of the World, Part 1 and Young Frankenstein, in which she played the memorable Frau Blücher.

Leachman was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011 and even at the end of her life remained active in the entertainment industry, appearing in the 2019 revival of Mad About You. In 2008 she made an appearance on Dancing with the Stars, where she finished seventh. At 82, she was the oldest contestant to ever appear on the show. Leachman had roles in several films now in postproduction and slated for release in 2021.

She was awarded an honorary degree from Northwestern in 2014.

Leachman is survived by her sons, Morgan, Adam and George Englund, a daughter, Dinah Englund, and seven grandchildren.

Leachman enchants in the Waa-Mu Show at Northwestern. Credit: Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives

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Reader Responses

  • I gave a Commencement speech at Northwestern in the 1980s and reminisced about roommates my wife, Jo, and I had as undergraduates in the ’40s. Jo’s roommate was Cloris Leachman [In Memoriam, spring 2021]; my roommate was Sandy Vanocur, who became NBC White House correspondent during the Kennedy administration. I told the students that Jo and I went to Northwestern decades too soon, because if we went to Northwestern now, my roommate would be Cloris Leachman. Cloris heard about it and sent me a telegram saying this was the worst insult of her life and that her roommate would have been Sandy Vanocur!

    Newt Minow ’49 ’50 JD, ’65 H Chicago, via Northwestern Magazine

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