Angela Lansbury, beloved star of ‘Murder She Wrote,’ dead at 96
Oct 11, 2022, 1:55 PM
(Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)
(CNN) — Angela Lansbury, who enjoyed an eclectic, award-winning movie and stage career in addition becoming America’s favorite TV sleuth in “Murder, She Wrote,” has died, according to a statement from her family provided to NBC, which was the network home of the long-running series. She was 96.
“The children of Dame Angela Lansbury are sad to announce that their mother died peacefully in her sleep at home in Los Angeles at 1:30 AM today, Tuesday, October 11, 2022, just five days shy of her 97th birthday,” her family said in a statement.
CNN has contacted representatives of Lansbury for comment.
Not yet 20 years old, Lansbury garnered her first Oscar nomination for her movie debut, “Gaslight,” in 1944. Her second came the next year for “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” and again in 1962 as the mother who betrays her son and her country in “The Manchurian Candidate.” (She received Golden Globes for the latter two films.)
The actress accepted an honorary Oscar in 2013, to go with the five Tony Awards she collected over a 40-plus-year span — beginning with “Mame” in 1966, and finally for a revival of the Noel Coward play “Blithe Spirit” in 2009. Lansbury also amassed 11 Emmy nominations for her role as Jessica Fletcher in “Murder, She Wrote,” but never won.
Lansbury went from ingenue to playing more middle-aged roles practically overnight. She was just 37, for example, when she portrayed Laurence Harvey’s conniving mother in “Manchurian Candidate,” even though her co-star was just two years younger than her.
Born in London, her mother, Moyna MacGill, was an actress, and father Edward Lansbury a politician. He died when she was just nine years old, and not long after the onset of World War II the family moved to the US in 1940, settling in New York.
Lansbury studied drama before moving at her mother’s urging to Los Angeles, where she briefly worked in a department store until landing her breakthrough role as the young maid in “Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.
Other films included “National Velvet” (playing Elizabeth Taylor’s sister), “The Harvey Girls,” “The Three Musketeers,” the Danny Kaye comedy “The Court Jester” and the Elvis Presley vehicle “Blue Hawaii.”
Lansbury made her Broadway debut in 1957, later starring in iconic Tony-winning roles in “Mame,” “Gypsy” and “Sweeney Todd.”
Generations of children revered Lansbury for her Disney roles, first in the 1971 movie musical “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” and later as the voice of Mrs. Potts in the 1991 Oscar-nominated animated film “Beauty and the Beast.” She also played a small role in the 2018 sequel “Mary Poppins Returns.”
“Oddly enough, children recognize my voice,” she told The Huffington Post in 2012. “They’ll hear me and say, ‘Mom, that’s Mrs. Potts!'”
After a short-lived marriage to actor Richard Cromwell, Lansbury wed British actor Peter Shaw in 1949. They stayed together until his death in 2003 and had two children, Anthony — who directed many episodes of “Murder, She Wrote” — and Deirdre. Shaw eventually became her manager, and was instrumental in the deal that made them the producers of the series which premiered in 1984.
Lansbury achieved her greatest fame in her 60s for her starring role in “Murder, She Wrote” as a crime-solving mystery writer. Of all her roles, Lansbury said Jessica Fletcher was most like her.
”I had a lot of say in it, and I didn’t want the character to be quirky,” she told The New York Times in 2009. ”I wanted her to be real. I didn’t want to have to put on any kind of veneer for 24 hours a day, which is what a television schedule sometimes feels like.”
Despite “Murder, She Wrote’s” success, the audience skewed older, and CBS irritated Lansbury by moving the series to Thursday night opposite NBC’s “Friends” in 1995, in what turned out to be the mystery’s final season.
“I’m shattered,” Lansbury told the Los Angeles Times, adding, “I really feel angry for all the people who watched us” on Sunday, where the show had consistently delivered big ratings following “60 Minutes.”
After the series ended, Lansbury starred in several “Murder, She Wrote” TV movies. She continued to work into her 80s and 90s, including a 2017 miniseries version of “Little Women” and starring in a 2015 Great Performances production of “Driving Miss Daisy,” opposite James Earl Jones.
“I love this industry and I love being in it,” Lansbury said in a 1998 interview with the Archives of American Television, adding in regard to the “Murder” audience, “They loved it, and they were loyal.”
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