Mary Tyler Moore helped change the way women were seen on TV

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Mary Tyler Moore.

Mary Tyler Moore, who died Wednesday at 80,  had a career that didn't just span decades, but attitudes.

The Brooklyn-born actress whose early TV work included a 1959 stint on Richard Diamond, Private Detective, in which she was just a voice and a pair of legs, got to ditch the traditional TV housewife's dress and pearls a few years later, clothing those dancer's legs in Capri pants as the frazzled, funny Laura Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show.

And then in 1970, a few months after the cover of Newsweek  declared "Women in Revolt," Moore tossed her hat in the air as the  Mary Tyler Moore  show's Mary Richards, a single, thirtysomething woman living in Minneapolis, working in TV news, and not making finding a man who could turn her back into Laura Petrie anything close to a priority.

Mary Richards may not have looked like a revolutionary, but she was the right character at the right time, and it's rare to find a woman working in entertainment television who doesn't cite her as an influence.

Read more: Philly newscasters reflect on Mary Tyler Moore's legacy: 'She changed the real world'

Through the magic of reruns, that Mary defined Moore's career for the rest of her life, even as she went on to an Oscar-nominated performance in Ordinary People and to star in a number of other short-lived TV series. An attempt to develop a show with her former co-star Valerie Harper, reprising their Mary Tyler Moore characters, eventually became a 2000 TV movie in which Moore's character, we learned, had not forever remained single, and was a widow with an adult daughter.

In a 1995 interview with the Associated Press, Moore compared her relationship with her most famous character  to “growing up with a mother who is a very famous actress. There are all kinds of wonderful perks that go with it, and then there are little resentments, too. ... My life is inextricably intertwined with Mary Richards’, and probably always will be.”

She had continued, though, to push herself in new directions, playing a very different Mary -- Mary Todd Lincoln -- in the 1988 mini-series Lincoln; a developmentally challenged woman in a 1996 cable-TV movie, Stolen Memories: Secrets from the Rose Garden; and TV newswoman Betty Rollin, battling breast cancer in 1978's First, You Cry.

She also was willing to lend her stardom to what she considered a good cause, as she did with a 2001 guest appearance on The Ellen Show, comedian Ellen DeGeneres' short-lived sitcom follow-up to Ellen, in which her character was established as a lesbian from the beginning.

"I am praying that a gentle show can succeed and that it can open ways of dealing with issues in life that are amusing, are important, are heart-rending," Moore, who played the aunt of DeGeneres' character, told reporters in a conference call at the time.

Her former Mary Tyler Moore co-star Cloris Leachman, who played DeGeneres' mother, was also on the call. Leachman recalled that after taping the episode, "I just said, 'Mary, you were so wonderful' and she said, 'My God, that's the first time you've ever given me a compliment.' "

Leachman claimed to have been shocked, telling Moore: "You were just Miss Perfect. Valerie [Harper] and I used to have to go to lunch to figure out what we were going to do just so we wouldn't take up too much rehearsal time. "

Diagnosed with type I diabetes more than 40 years ago, Moore could be disarmingly frank about the parts of her life that weren't as funny as some  of her roles.

Discussing her biography, After All, with me in a 1995 interview, she said the stories she told were never meant to be shocking because most of the facts were already known: her son Richard's death at 24 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, her sister's fatal overdose, her own struggle with alcoholism. What surprised me was how few apologies she made for herself, particularly regarding her shortcomings as a mother.

"I felt it was important for me to honestly reflect what I had been thinking about, both in terms of the lighter-weight humor in my life as well as those portions of my life that had been painful or instructive, and to be less than 100 percent honest about that would be less than instructive," Moore said. 

She'd given up smoking, and at at the time of our interview had been sober 12 years, but she seemed proudest of having written her own story, working two to three hours a day, writing longhand, and without a ghostwriter.

Mary Tyler Moore wasn't just a game-changer for Mary Richards. It produced three spin-offs: Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant, and was a joint production of Moore and her second husband, Grant Tinker, who died in November 2016, through  MTM Enterprises.

MTM, with its trademark meowing kitten, also produced a string of quality shows, including The Bob Newhart ShowHill Street BluesSt. Elsewhere, and WKRP in Cincinnati.

Moore won seven Emmys, the most recent in 1993 for a Lifetime movie, Stolen Babies. She won two for The Dick Van Dyke Show and the other four for Mary Tyler Moore.

In 1983, Moore married cardiologist Robert Levine, who survives her. Her marriage to Tinker lasted from 1962 to 1981. Before that, she was married to Dick Meeker from 1955 to 1961. 

This article contains information from the  Associated Press.