The TV icon sat down with Charlie Rose for a series of very personal conversations on his PBS program in the early 1990s, revealing her authentic self.
CHARLIE ROSE: Born in Brooklyn.
MARY TYLER MOORE: Brooklyn Heights, my dear, of impoverished nobility.
CHARLIE ROSE: Nobility.
MARY TYLER MOORE: Yes, yes.
Known for playing upbeat sunny characters, Mary’s childhood was less than radiant. She said her mother was an alcoholic and her father rarely expressed emotion.
CHARLIE ROSE: And how do you now, today, look back and see their influence on you?
MARY TYLER MOORE: Well, I felt at the time that I wasn’t getting the love and affection and attention that I wanted.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yeah.
MARY TYLER MOORE: --and I can see that that’s probably true.
But Moore says she always felt at home in the spotlight -- her desire to perform was almost innate.
CHARLIE ROSE: Well, did you know then that you wanted to be a performer?
MARY TYLER MOORE: I knew when I was 3.
CHARLIE ROSE: Three?
MARY TYLER MOORE: In fact it’s -- my grandfather apparently said of me when I was 3, ‘’This child will either end up on stage or in jail.’’
On screen, Moore was a symbol of independence and confidence, but in real life she had her insecurities.
CHARLIE ROSE: Now, did you think you had talent, or did you think, ‘’I’m just lucky to be here.’’
MARY TYLER MOORE: Oh, I have—
CHARLIE ROSE: I hope they don’t find out that I--’
MARY TYLER MOORE: --always been a combination of both—
CHARLIE ROSE: --am not--
MARY TYLER MOORE: --of those things.
CHARLIE ROSE: What, what? Security and insecurity?
MARY TYLER MOORE: And total insecurity, yes. ‘’I can just knock ‘em dead. I’m the best!’’ and ‘’Oh, why would anyone ever want to see me? This is no good. They’re all going to find out.”
CHARLIE ROSE: I’m so great. I hope they don’t find out.
MARY TYLER MOORE: It’s true. And I think you’ll find that a lot of performers say that.
CHARLIE ROSE: There are a lot of people like that.
Mary says stardom came at a price. As she grew busier in her career, she spent less time at home and her relationship with her son, Richie, grew distant. After years of turmoil, things finally seemed to be on the right path, but it all ended abruptly after he accidently shot himself.
CHARLIE ROSE: …and the hardest thing for you to come to grips with was the death of your son.
MARY TYLER MOORE: Yes, of course. I can’t imagine a pain more all-encompassing than losing a child. He was 24.
CHARLIE ROSE: Because you invest everything, and you watched.
MARY TYLER MOORE: I didn’t invest enough, as I look back, you know. So it’s not a matter of—
CHARLIE ROSE: Do you feel guilty?
MARY TYLER MOORE: --my investment; it’s his life, and that—
CHARLIE ROSE: That didn’t come to full bloom.
MARY TYLER MOORE: Yeah. Yeah. Because he was, as I said earlier, the, the happiness, especially the happiness between us was growing, was evolving, and we had two wonderful years together where we understood each other and allowed each other to be who we were. To have had to cut that short is the worst shame.
Always honest, in 1993, Moore also openly discussed her decades-long struggle with alcohol.
MARY TYLER MOORE: I just, every evening at 6:00, I’d say, “Well, I think I won’t have the martini tonight,” and about five minutes later, I’d be in there making it. And so I decided, rather than muck around any further as an amateur, I’d go to the pros, and pros, for me, were the Betty Ford Center, where I learned to sort of examine the whys and the wherefores of my emotional state, and what it is I was doing, what I was running from, why I needed to anesthetize myself.
Moore found sobriety and lasting love with her third husband, Dr. Robert Levine. They were married for 33 years and he was at her side when she passed away in Connecticut.
CHARLIE ROSE: But in the end, after all is said and done—
MARY TYLER MOORE: Yeah.
CHARLIE ROSE: This has been a pretty good life.
MARY TYLER MOORE: Has been a wonderful life, absolutely terrific. There are very few things that I would go back and do differently, if I had that control.