Cloris Leachman, an Oscar-winner for her portrayal of a lonely housewife in The Last Picture Show, a comedic delight as Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein, and self-absorbed neighbor Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, has died, the AP reports. She was 94. Leachman died in her sleep of natural causes at her home in Encinitas, Calif., publicist Monique Moss said Wednesday. Her daughter Dinah Englund was at her side, Moss said. A character actor of extraordinary range, Leachman defied typecasting. She appeared as Timmy's mother on the Lassie series, a frontier prostitute in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and a crime spree family member in Crazy Mama. Leachman grew up on the outskirts of Des Moines, Iowa, where she was born in 1926. Her mother had ambitious ideas for her children, arranging for Cloris to ride on a coal truck to Des Moines for an audition for a Drake University student play.
She was given the role and appeared in other plays at a local theater. After high school, she won a scholarship to study drama at Northwestern University. Admittedly a poor student, Leachman lasted only a year. While in the Chicago area, she tried out for a beauty contest and was chosen. She competed in the 1946 Miss America pageant, qualifying as a finalist. Her consolation prize: a $1,000 talent scholarship. In 1953, Leachman married George Englund, and they had five children: Adam, Bryan, George, Morgan and Dinah. “There was no one like Cloris. With a single look she had the ability to break your heart or make you laugh ’till the tears ran down your face,” Juliet Green, her longtime manager, said in a statement.
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