Katherine Helmond, best known for her roles on long-running series like Who’s the Boss? and in films like Brazil, died on Saturday, February 23, at the age of 89, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Helmond’s talent agency told the outlet she died in her Los Angeles home, due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Throughout her prolific career, Helmond racked up an impressive seven Emmy nominations and won two Golden Globe awards, one for her lead role on Soap, in 1980, and another in 1989, while starring on Who’s the Boss? She also appeared in several productions both on and off Broadway, and was nominated for the best supporting or featured actress (dramatic) Tony award in 1973, for playing Margaret in the revival of Eugene O’Neill’s The Great God Brown.
In Soap, one of Helmond’s first major recurring TV roles, she played Jessica Tate, the oblivious but kind-hearted matriarch of one of the two families featured in the primetime series, a critically lauded parody of daytime soap operas that has only continued to grow in popularity since its four-season run ended in 1981; Helmond was one of only two characters to appear in all 85 episodes. From 1984 to 1992, she starred as Mona Robinson in Who’s the Boss?, a role that played a major part in reframing stereotypes about older women: Rather than the typically uptight, curmudgeonly widow, Helmond’s sexually liberated Mona had an active social life and dated men of all ages and backgrounds throughout the show’s eight seasons.
Helmond also had yet another recurring mother-in-law role on Everybody Loves Raymond, and appeared in dozens of films over the course of her five decades in show business. She was in Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, 1976’s Family Plot, lent her voice to all three Cars movies, and starred in a trio of filmmaker Terry Gilliam’s projects: 1981’s Time Bandits, 1985’s Brazil, and 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
After news broke on Friday of her passing, many of Helmond’s former costars paid tribute to the groundbreaking actress. “I was in love with her,” Tony Danza, her Who’s the Boss? costar, told Deadline. “She was such an influence on me. From being a single guy with a hit show in Hollywood, though my marriage and having kids—she was with me. No matter what problem I had, I could go to her. Very few people could match her,” he continued. “She was a consummate professional—never made a mistake and always got the laugh. She was the sexy older lady who could keep up with the young people. She just had a way about her.” He added, “I’ll miss her so terribly.”
Judith Light, who played Helmond’s daughter on the sitcom, told Reuters in a statement, “Katherine Helmond was a remarkable human being and an extraordinary artist; generous, gracious, charming, and profoundly funny. She taught me so much about life and inspired me indelibly by watching her work. Katherine was a gift to our business and to the world, and will be deeply missed.”
Alyssa Milano (who played Light’s daughter) and Patricia Heaton (Helmond’s daughter on Everybody Loves Raymond) were among the many others who mourned Helmond on social media.