Jessica Walter, an Emmy-winning actor best known for her role as the endlessly meme-able Lucille Bluth in “Arrested Development,” has died. She was 80 years old.
Walter died in her sleep at her New York City home on Wednesday, according to Deadline.
Her daughter, Brooke Bowman, a Fox Entertainment executive, also confirmed the news.
“It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of my beloved mom, Jessica,” Bowman said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “A working actor for over six decades, her greatest pleasure was bringing joy to others through her storytelling both on screen and off. While her legacy will live on through her body of work, she will also be remembered by many for her wit, class and overall joie de vivre.”
Walter’s husband of more than three decades and her voice acting partner in the animated series “Archer,” Ron Leibman, had died in 2019 at age 82.
Walter had portrayed Malory Archer, the titular character’s difficult mother, while Leibman voiced her new husband, Ron Cadillac. Her voice work also included a four-season run on “Dinosaurs,” an expensive Jim Henson-inspired sitcom about an animatronic family of dinosaurs.
Over the course of her career Walter was nominated for four Emmy awards, winning once in 1975 for playing the title character in the short-lived crime drama “Amy Prentiss.”
She was nominated for an Emmy and several other awards for her role as the scheming, out-of-touch alcoholic Lucille Bluth in “Arrested Development,” a sleeper hit about a dysfunctional, once-wealthy family that gained a cult following online after it was canceled following its third season.
Born in Brooklyn on Jan. 31, 1941, Walter got her start in New York City, appearing on Broadway before moving to the screen, where she enjoyed steady work on television in series such as “The Love Boat” and “Three’s A Crowd.” She was a recurring character on “Trapper John, M.D.” ― a medical drama and “M*A*S*H” spinoff ― and continued to appear on TV in shows like “At Home With Amy Sedaris” and “Good Girls” through her final years.
Walter vaulted to fame with a starring role in “Play Misty For Me,” Clint Eastwood’s 1971 directorial debut about a late-night DJ and the woman who becomes obsessed with him. Reviewing the film, Roger Ebert noted that Walter played the stalker, Evelyn Draper, with “unnerving effectiveness.”
Indeed, her most beloved characters shared a sense of derangement.
Speaking with the AV Club in 2012, Walter said that she found playing “difficult” women to be more fun.
“They’re juicy, much better than playing the vanilla ingenues, you know, Miss Vanilla Ice Cream,” she said.
“I don’t know that I’m attracted to them. I think people just think of me for them, and I read them and I like them,” she went on. “They’re much more fun to play and find the levels, because nobody’s that one-color evil. There’s lots of levels to why they became that way.”
Once asked about the similarities between her characters on “Archer” and “Arrested Development,” Walter said she thinks of them differently, acknowledging that “they’re both mothers that don’t know how to show love to their kids.”
“With Lucille, one of the main things I thought about was her goal is to stay in the lifestyle she’s accustomed to living in, and so what does she have to do to achieve that? Malory, she works for a living and she runs the business … Lucille secretly is the boss, but her husband doesn’t know it. She’s the woman behind the man, pushing, grabbing,” she told IndieWire in 2013. (The outlet described her as “a genuinely nice person” who “oozes sincerity.”)
Netflix revived “Arrested Development” in 2013 for two more seasons ― the first of which was filmed in a new, nonlinear format created in large part to accommodate the cast’s conflicting schedules. A fifth and apparently final season debuted in 2018. That year, Jeffrey Tambor, who played patriarch George Bluth Sr., sparked controversy by revealing that he had yelled at Walter onset.
On social media, an outpouring of grief followed the news of Walter’s death. Former co-star Henry Winkler, who played incompetent defense attorney Barry Zuckerkorn on “Arrested Development,” said on Twitter, “It was an honor to watch her comedy from the very first row.”
Walter is survived by her daughter, Bowman.
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