Doris Roberts, a character actress who laboured honourably both on stage and screen for years before finding the perfect vehicle for her talents, the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, died on April 17. She was 90.
Her Everybody Loves Raymond co-star Patricia Heaton confirmed the news on Twitter.
A cause of death has not yet been released. According to TMZ, which first reported the news, Roberts died in Los Angeles. ABC and CBS also confirmed the news.
Roberts was nominated for 11 Emmys, including seven for playing Marie Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond, winning four for her work on that series; she picked up her first Emmy in 1983 for a guest appearance on St Elsewhere, making for a total of five wins overall.
On Everybody Loves Raymond, Roberts’ almost omnipresent Marie Barone (she appeared on every episode of the show, which ran from 1996-2005) made life difficult for her son, Ray Romano’s Ray, and especially for his wife Debra, played by Heaton.
Roberts explained to the website Jewish Virtual Library that to create Marie she combined aspects of Romano’s Italian mother and series producer Phil Rosenthal’s German-Jewish mother. “They are different rhythms, different personas. I meld them together,” the actress said. “This woman could be a harridan. She really is more than meddlesome.”
But in her performance she made Marie’s actions more palatable. “Everything I do, I do it because I want (the other characters) to make a better life, a better home. It all comes from love. That’s why I’m very pleased and excited that I have that much of a contribution for that character that makes everyone laugh, because if you laugh at me, you can laugh at your own parents.”
When Remington Steele producers were looking to make changes in the supporting cast in 1983 after the show’s first season, they envisioned a new character, Mildred Krebs, as an attractive 35-year-old woman who could be a rival for the affections of Pierce Brosnan’s Steele. Despite how the character was then delineated, Roberts, who’d recently won an Emmy for guesting on St Elsewhere, asked to read for the part and won over executive producer Michael Gleason in her audition – and the character was changed to fit Roberts. She recurred in the second season and became a series regular thereafter, appearing in 72 episodes of the show from 1983-1987.
Recent film work included romantic comedy All Over The Guy (2001), David Spade vehicle Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003), comedies Grandma’s Boy, I-See-You.Com and Keeping Up With The Steins (all 2006); the romantic comedy Play The Game, in which she had a substantial role opposite Andy Griffith, family adventure comedy Aliens In The Attic (2009), and Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection (2012), in which she played the mother of Eugene Levy’s character.
In a 2007 episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Roberts played the ill, mistreated matriarch of an aristocratic New York family. In recent years the actress also guested on Grey’s Anatomy, The Middle (reuniting with Heaton), Hot In Cleveland, Desperate Housewives and Melissa & Joey.
Doris May Green was born in St Louis. After Doris’ father deserted the family, her mother raised Doris in the Bronx with the aid of her own parents. Doris’ stepfather, whose surname she took, was Chester H. Roberts. He and Doris’ mother Ann operated stenographic service the Z.L. Rosenfield Agency, which catered to playwrights and actors.
In her brief time at NYU, Roberts studied journalism, but she soon moved to the Neighborhood Playhouse to study acting (later she joined the Actors Studio).
Roberts made her Broadway debut in 1955 in a revival of William Saroyan’s comic play The Time Of Your Life. For the hit original comedy The Desk Set, starring Shirley Booth, she played a supporting role and served as stage manager. After an absence from Broadway of a number of years, she appeared in Marathon ’33, starring Julie Harris, in 1963-1964.
Roberts made her film debut in 1961’s Something Wild. Later in the decade she had small roles in Barefoot In The Park and Divorce American Style (both 1967) and somewhat larger roles in No Way To Treat A Lady and Kirk Douglas film A Lovely Way To Die (both 1968). The actress was fourth billed in the 1969 cult classic The Honeymoon Killers. In the 1970s her career picked up considerably both in film and on TV.
She picked up an Emmy nomination in 1991 for her work on a segment of PBS’ American Playhouse called The Sunset Gang, about life in a retirement community. The actress complained to the L.A. Times when the show debuted: “I won an Emmy for a dramatic role on St Elsewhere. I have yet to be given a dramatic role (to do since) in this town. Comedy is what they put me in. I came from New York theatre. I am an actress – I do everything.”
In September 2002 she testified before the Senate Special Committee On Aging about age discrimination in Hollywood and how the problem is particularly acute for women. “Many of my friends, talented actresses in the 40- to 60-year-old range, are forced to live on unemployment or welfare because of the scarcity of roles for women in that age bracket,” she declared in part.
She was the longtime chair of the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, using her Hollywood connections to raise funds.
Roberts was married twice, the first time to Michael Emilio Cannata from 1956 until their divorce in 1962 and the second time to novelist and playwright William Goyen, to whom she was married from 1963 until his death in 1983.
She is survived by her son Michael, from her first marriage, who was also her manager, and three grandchildren. – Reuters/Carmel Dagan