"By the time Richie was 5, I had already let him down. When he needed me the most, I was busier and even more self-concerned,” Mary Tyler Moore admitted.
Mary Tyler Moore was known for playing happy, upbeat characters on screen but her personal life wasn't always sunny. One of the biggest tragedies in her life took place when the late actress's son, Richie Meeker, died in 1980 at the age of 24. The award-winning screen legend faced immense guilt about his passing as she considered she could have been a better mother. Best known for the Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Tyler Moore Show, she once admitted that her hectic work schedule made her an absent mother.
According to PEOPLE, in her 1995 memoir, After All, she wrote, “I demanded a lot of Richie. I was responsible for a lot of alienation,” she admitted of her time with her son. "There is no question about it. By the time Richie was 5, I had already let him down. When he needed me the most, I was busier and even more self-concerned than I had been when he was an impressionable infant.” Growing up with a famous parent proved challenging for Richie. Moore was married to Richard Meeker and gave birth just one year into her first marriage. She was only 18 at the time. By 21 she already had steady work on TV. Moore and Meeker divorced in 1961 when Richie was 6 years old.
Mary Tyler Moore with he son Richard. He accidently killed himself with a shotgun that had a hair trigger. That gun was later banned. This happened just 3 weeks after the release of Ordinary People, in which she portrays a parent grieving the accidental death of her child. Peace pic.twitter.com/7cSmLUZHs0— Chris Mason (@mason4922) April 11, 2021
Nearly 20 years later, on October 15, 1980, she received a 5 a.m. phone call from her then–estranged second husband, CBS executive Grant Tinker, that no mother would ever want to hear. As Richie grew up, the mother and son grew further apart. Moore didn't realize that she would never have enough time to make amends with her son as he tragically passed away sooner than expected. Richie, an avid gun collector, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. “On Oct. 15, 1980, at 5 a.m., the phone awakened me,” she wrote in her memoir. “It was Grant. ‘If you’re standing, you should sit down …. It’s Richie. He’s dead.'”
The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office later confirmed that his death was an accident. The distraught actress would later spread his ashes in the Owens River in California. “The water was clear and high as I knelt over it,” she wrote. “I opened the container and emptied it into the rushing water. What was meant to be a prayer became an outraged demand. ‘You take care of him,’ I screamed at the sky.”
Almost 37 years after her son died, the actress passed away due to cardiopulmonary arrest following pneumonia. She was 80 years old. Her loving husband of 33 years Dr. Robert Levine stayed by her side until her death. The actress had been on a ventilator and had been hospitalized with pneumonia due to complications from diabetes. According to TODAY, he called her "my Mary" and said she was "still with [him] every day." With health issues like diabetes, Moore also suffered from alcoholism. Through it all her husband stood by her side.
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Vince Bucci