Emmy-winning Arrested Development actress Jessica Walter dead at 80

Jessica Walter dead at 80: Emmy-winning Arrested Development actress passes away in her sleep after storied six decade career

  •  The actress passed away in her sleep at her home in New York City on Wednesday, March 24
  • Her daughter Brooke Bowman confirmed the news as she said in a statement: ‘It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of my beloved mom Jessica’ 
  • Her signature role was starring as Lucille Bluth in critically-acclaimed series Arrested Development throughout all five seasons 
  • Though she may be best known for her work on Arrested Development, she earned her Primetime Emmy Award in 1975 for her role in Amy Prentis 
  • Her breakout role came when she starred in Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty For Me, in 1971 
  • Walter enjoyed a storied career which spanned six decades which began on television series Love Of Life in 1951 
  • The star’s accomplishments did not just happen on the stage and screen as she also served as the second National Vice President of the Screen Actors Guild and was an elected member of the SAG Board of Directors for over a decade 
  • In May 2018, Walter claimed in an interview with the New York Times that Arrested Development co-star Jeffrey Tambor verbally harassed her on set

Jessica Walter, best known for her work on sitcom Arrested Development, has died at 80 after a career that spanned six decades.

The Emmy-nominated actress passed away in her sleep at her home in New York City on Wednesday, March 24.

Her daughter Brooke Bowman confirmed the news as she said in a statement: ‘It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of my beloved mom Jessica. 

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Sad news: Jessica Walter(seen in May 2018), best known for her work on Arrested Development, has died at 80 after a career that spanned six decades

Signature role: She starred as Lucille Bluth on all five seasons of the sitcom

‘A working actor for over six decades, her greatest pleasure was bringing joy to others through her storytelling both on screen and off. 

‘While her legacy will live on through her body of work, she will also be remembered by many for her wit, class and overall joie de vivre.’

Her signature role was starring as Lucille Bluth in critically-acclaimed series Arrested Development throughout all five seasons. 

Legend: Though she may be best known for her work on Arrested Development, she earned her Primetime Emmy Award in 1975 for her role in Amy Prentis, Walter is seen here with Peter Falk of Columbo in May 1975

Leading lady: She won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series for her titular role in the crime drama which was centered around a woman becoming the new detective chief in San Francisco

The sitcom aired on Fox for the first three seasons from 2003 to 2005 before being revived on Netflix in 2018. 

Though she may be best known for her work on Arrested Development, she earned her Primetime Emmy Award in 1975 for her role in Amy Prentis. 

She won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series for her titular role in the crime drama which was centered around a woman becoming the new detective chief in San Francisco.

The show, a spin-off of Ironside, featured Helen Hunt as Walter´s teenage daughter. 

Storied career:  Walter enjoyed a storied career which spanned six decades which began in 1951, she is seen in London back in 1966

Walter enjoyed a storied career which spanned six decades which began on television series Love Of Life in 1951. 

Walter’s feature debut was in the 1964 film Lilith, with Warren Beatty, Jean Seberg and Gene Hackman, who was also on his first film.

She also snagged a role in John Frankenheimer’s racing epic Grand Prix, from 1966, as the glamorous but discontented wife of a Formula One racer who falls for another driver. 

That same year she appeared in Sidney Lumet’s The Group, a female-led ensemble about the graduates of a prestigious university (Walter played the catty Libby), and acted for Lumet again in 1968’s Bye Bye Braverman.

She snagged a role in John Frankenheimer’s racing epic Grand Prix, from 1966, as glamorous but discontented wife of a Formula One racer who falls for another driver, as she is seen in Paris back in April 1966 with Frankenheimer (left) and French actor Yves Montand (right)

She made numerous appearances on popular ’60s shows including Naked City, Route 66, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Fugitive, and Flipper. 

Her breakout role came when she starred in Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty For Me, in 1971.

In the film – which was her first significant lead – she played Evelyn Draper, the woman who becomes obsessed with Eastwood´s disc jockey character. Walter was widely praised for her unnerving performance. 

She later did voice acting work for animated series Archer with H. Jon Benjamin and Aisha Tyler through all 11 seasons from 2009 to 2020. 

Walter played a petty, martini-swilling spymaster Malory Archer whose deeply dysfunctional relationship with her title character son was the subject of most of the show’s early plots when it launched. 

Making her name: Her breakout role came when she starred in Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty For Me, in 1971

Talented: In the film – which was her first significant lead – she played Evelyn Draper, the woman who becomes obsessed with Eastwood’s disc jockey character. Walter was widely praised for her unnerving performance

The star’s accomplishments did not just happen on the stage and screen as she also served as the second National Vice President of the Screen Actors Guild and was an elected member of the SAG Board of Directors for over a decade.

Celebrities paid tribute to the actress on social media including Henry Winkler who starred with her on Arrested Development.

The 75-year-old actor took to his Twitter on Thursday to write: ‘OH NO …We worked together for years on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT ..It was an honor to watch her comedy explode from the very first row.’

Tony Hale – who played Lucille’s son Buster Bluth on Arrested Development –  shared a selfie of the two of them with the caption: ‘She was a force, and her talent and timing were unmatched. Rest In Peace, Mama Bluth.’

‘It was an honor to watch her comedy explode from the very first row’: Celebrities paid tribute to the actress on social media including Henry Winkler who starred with her on Arrested Development

Motherboy: Tony Hale – who played Lucille’s son Buster Bluth on Arrested Development – shared a selfie of the two of them with the caption: ‘She was a force, and her talent and timing were unmatched. Rest In Peace, Mama Bluth’

‘Jessica Walter was a queen in every way’: Aisha Tyler starred alongside her in animated series Archer and shared this touching tribute

Sad: The celebrity tributes to Walter were posted throughout social media 

‘RIP and a true story’: New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman said Walter had sent her an email asking her to take down her Twitter avatar of her Arrested Development character

The offbeat tale of a wealthy and deeply dysfunctional Californian family, Arrested Development earned critical acclaim during its original run on Fox before it was canceled in 2006.

Following an impassioned campaign from its legion of fans, the show was revived on Netflix for a further two seasons, and it is regularly listed among the most influential modern TV sitcoms.

Walter’s comedic flair as the deeply flawed mom of a dysfunctional family won her a new generation of fans. She addressed the second-act success in candid style.

‘It exposed me to a demographic of people who thought I was sick or dead,’ Walter said in a 2013 interview with The Associated Press.

Though her character Lucille was beloved among fans, Walter later revealed it wasn’t easy playing the role as she famously claimed in May 2018 that co-star Jeffrey Tambor verbally harassed her on set.

Walter said in an interview with The New York Times that Tambor ‘never crossed the line on our show, with any, you know, sexual whatever. Verbally, yes, he harassed me, but he did apologize’.

Allegations against Tambor had surfaced in November 2017 when two transgender women he worked with on the Amazon series Transparent accused him of sexual harassment.

 ‘In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set’: In May 2018, Walter claimed in an interview with the New York Times that co-star Jeffrey Tambor verbally harassed her on set

He lost his job as transgender matriarch Maura Pfefferman on Transparent in the wake of the allegations made by his ex-personal assistant Van Barnes and his Transparent co-star Trace Lysette.

She said she had to ‘let go of being angry at him,’ adding that she wanted to give him a chance at being friends.

 Walter told the newspaper: ‘In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set. And it’s hard to deal with, but I’m over it now.’ 

The actress made the comments during a raw sit-down the Times alongside cast-mates Jason Bateman, Tony Hale, David Cross and Tambor himself.

Hale said in the interview that they’ve ‘all had moments,’ to which Walter responded: ‘But not like that, not like that. That was bad.’

She had not talked about the interview for years until an interview with Elle magazine in February 2019 years after the #MeToo movement had shaken things up in Hollywood as she said: ‘The sad thing is that actresses of my generation, we were taught to just suck it up. The show must go on. Time is money. You never walk off set. You just keep going.

‘Luckily, I’ve never had anybody be sexually abusive. But if somebody was nasty or rotten or loud, it never would have occurred to me to bring up the incident. Now I would.’

She was asked about her experience with Tambor, now 76, on set as she replied: ‘We always have last-minute line changes, and it’s difficult to do the work that you want to do when you’re thinking, “Oh my god, what’s my next line?” So I had reset a take.

‘And I apologized as Mr. Tambor was going on his rant. I apologized about three times. “Well, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. If you try to make me feel worse than I do, you can’t.” And he ran off set.’

Gorgeous: Walter is seen at the 57th Primetime Emmy Awards in September 2005

The actress has played a wide-ranging array of characters throughout her stories career, including the titular role in Amy Prentiss, an American police drama television series that originally aired on NBC from 1974 to 1975. 

After watching footage of a few of her roles, she told Elle: ‘I thought, Wow, I guess I am a character actor. Because even my “leading ladies”—you know, in air quotes—were characters.

‘They were not Miss Vanilla Ice Cream. They weren’t holding the horse while John Wayne galloped into the sunset.’

In a 2011 interview, Walters talked about how enjoyed playing characters with a bit of edge to them, like on Arrested Development. 

‘I’m about to do a guest spot on The Big Bang Theory, and I play a matron from Pasadena with big money,’ she told the New York Daily News. 

‘I don’t know why I get those parts but I know I’m lucky, because the other parts, the Ms. Vanilla Ice Cream sweet parts, are so boring.’

She also spoke about how proud she was of her daughter Brooke Bowman, who was an ABC executive at the time. 

Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything: Walter seen with Arrested Development co-stars Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, and Tambor as they are seen in September 2014

The actress quipped: ‘My daughter, I’m proud to say, is senior vice president of ABC Family network. She could hire and fire me. She has hired me, but she has not fired me.’

Walter was born in Brooklyn and raised in Astoria, Queens as the daughter of a teacher and bass violinist in the NBC Symphony Orchestra. 

She was always destined for showbusiness in a 2019 interview with the Wall Street Journal she recalled: ‘Years later, someone interviewed the teacher about her past students, and she said, “Jessie wanted to be an actress or die.”‘

She went on to train at New York’s High School of Performing Arts and the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre.

Lots of love: She was married to fellow actor Ron Leibman from 1983 to his death in December 2019. The couple are pictured at a benefit gala for the Arthur Miller Foundation in 2016 

Walter focused in on her stage work as she made her Broadway debut in 1963 play Photo Finish by Peter Ustinov.

Her first husband was Ross Bowman as they are parents to aforementioned daughter Brooke, who is currently SVP Drama Programming at Fox Entertainment.

Walter is also survived by grandson Micah Heymann.

She was married to fellow actor Ron Leibman from 1983 to his death in December 2019. 

Walter and Leibman, who won a Tony Award for playing Roy Cohn in 1993´s Angels in America, were often co-stars, including a Broadway run in 1988 of Neil Simon´s Rumors, and on Archer, where Leibman also voiced a recurring role as her husband. 

Talented: Walter seen in New York City back in May 2019

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