Emmy-winning screen legend Jessica Walter passed away in her sleep in the privacy of her home in New York City on March 24, as reported by Deadline. Walter’s daughter Brooke Bowman, the Senior Vice President of Drama Programming and Development at Fox Entertainment, announced her mother’s passing on Thursday, March 25, although further details surrounding the circumstances of the event are yet unknown, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Walter’s career as an actress spanned over six decades. Throughout the last half of the twentieth century, she booked recurring roles and special guest appearances in a bevy of beloved television programs such as The Love Boat, Mannix, McCloud, Columbo, The Streets of San Francisco and Murder, She Wrote. It was not until the early 2000’s that Walters netted what is largely considered to be her signature television role: Lucille Bluth, the snarky and conniving matriarch of the hapless Bluth family in the groundbreaking Fox sitcom Arrested Development. In an interview on the NPR variety show Ask Me Another, Walter explained that the day after she delivered her audition tape, she was invited to fly out to Los Angeles for a screen chemistry test. She recounted to host Ophira Eisenberg (Queer As Folk, Girls) that Will Arnett (BoJack Horseman, Running Wilde) and Tony Hale (Veep, The Mysterious Benedict Society) were doing their own in-person auditions the same day, and that all three of them got hired on the spot. Both Arnett and Hale eulogized Walter via posts on their respective Twitter pages.
Jessica Walter was a deeply talented person
We first met on a pilot in ‘96 and I was instantly blown away
I’m fortunate to have had a front row seat to her brilliance for 25 years
My thoughts are with her daughter Brooke and grandson Micah today
Farewell Jessica, you’ll be missed
— Will Arnett™ (@arnettwill) March 25, 2021
She was a force, and her talent and timing were unmatched. Rest In Peace Mama Bluth. pic.twitter.com/wJeOeJleR3
— Tony Hale (@MrTonyHale) March 25, 2021
Walter, like Arnett and Hale, took on several voice acting roles over the course of her career, one of the most notable being Malory Archer, the vain and vindictive mother of the titular character in the long-running animated FX spy comedy Archer. In a 2017 interview with BUILD, Walter recalled that her agent sent her Malory’s official character description, which explicitly compared the character to Walter’s own Arrested Development role. Walter was known to shower praise on Archer whenever she could. “I love it… [Creator] Adam [Reed] is a genius, and this is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had,” she exclaimed, via BUILD.
The feeling of respect seems to have been mutual. Reed (Sealab 2021, Frisky Dingo) had nothing but kind words to share about Walter upon hearing of her passing: “Jessica was… the exact opposite of Malory Archer — warm, caring, and kind, with an absolutely cracking sense of humor — and it was both a privilege and a true honor to work with her,” via his official statement to the press. This is not the first time Reed has had to mourn the death of an actor in the Archer voice cast. George Coe (Max Headroom, Saturday Night Live), who voiced the subservient valet Woodhouse during the show’s first four seasons, passed away in 2015 at age 86.
FX issued a public statement celebrating Walter’s life and work as well. “She was a comedic genius and a brilliant actor who personified wit, grace and elegance… Words cannot describe the monumental loss we and the Archer producers and cast feel. We extend our love, appreciation and condolences to Jessica’s family,” the statement reads.
Walter was nominated to receive an Emmy Award four times during her lifetime. Her one win came in 1975, when she took home the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series for playing the eponymous main character in the NBC police procedural Amy Prentiss.
Walter was eighty years old at the time of her passing. Her husband, fellow Emmy winner Ron Leibman (Kaz, Door to Door), passed in December 2019 at age 82.
Image credit: Raymond Flotat