She was the poster girl of the modern, independent woman who could do it all in the 1970s. Taking on the world with a smile, actress Mary Tyler Moore captured the love and admiration of a generation in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
But behind her radiant and cheery persona, Mary is fighting an ongoing struggle, as she deals with the debilitating effects of diabetes.
Diagnosed with Type 1 when she was 33 years old, Mary (now 77) has endured her fair share of hardships associated with the disease.
With her body unable to produce enough insulin to convert sugars, starches and other foods, she has had an increased risk of osteoporosis and now faces a serious risk of heart disease and strokes.
In recent years she’s suffered several broken bones, but those close to her say her condition has rapidly deteriorated of late.
“Her eyesight is what the big problem is right now,” reveals her close friend and former The Mary Tyler Moore Show cast mate, Betty White. “She is almost beyond the point [of being able to see].”
As she struggles to stay mobile, Mary is said to rarely leave her New York home – her only regular excursions being her long-standing hair appointments on the Upper East Side. But in typical Mary Tyler Moore fashion, the icon refuses to let the illness get the best of her, and her feisty spirit is still very much intact.
While her former on-screen husband Dick Van Dyke admits she has a battle on her hands, Mary still has her sharp wit and sense of humour, with one insider saying, “They keep each other in stitches.”
“Mary is not a ‘woe-is-me’ woman,” adds a friend. “She has her bad days, but she just tries to find enjoyment in each and every day.”
Having battled the illness for decades, Mary quickly learnt she needed to adjust her lifestyle and accept that much of the spontaneity she once enjoyed had to be done away with.
“You’ve got to always plan,” she explains. “It is a fact of life that if someone invites you out to dinner you have to think, ‘What are they going to be doing when they serve you dinner? How quickly are they going to get it on the table from the time I arrive? When should I take my shot? What should I eat of what’s there?’”
To ensure she is always able to balance out her blood sugar levels, Mary carries a syringe of insulin with her and has been known to bring it out at dinner parties if she eats more than expected.
“I shoot myself through my clothes, at the table, right here in my thigh!” she exclaims. “I seldom wear white as a result.”
Now, as her health takes a turn for the worst, the much-loved star is leaning on old friends for support and many of those rallying behind her are her treasured co-stars.
Valerie Harper, who played Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, still keeps in regular contact with the award-winning star, adding that Mary sounds “great”.
Describing Mary as a “wonderful friend”, Valerie is a strong believer in the power of positivity to tackle serious issues.
Valerie herself was given just three months to live in March 2013 after doctors discovered she had a rare form of lung cancer that had moved to her brain. However, more than a year later, she is still going strong, sharing her upbeat outlook with her dear friend.
“It’s not so much mind over matter, but mind and body and spirit coming together and taking control,” she explains.
“That’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t know if it’s working, but I’m doing it!”
Keeping Mary’s spirits up is her husband of more than 30 years Dr Robert Levine, a respected cardiologist. Friends say with his medical knowledge, Robert understands the serious effects of the disease and his compassion for Mary means he is a wonderful support to her.
As he is 17 years her junior, Betty reveals, “Both of them knew at some point Robert was going to be her caregiver.”
Now kept company at home by her husband and beloved dogs, Mary is said to be putting what energy she has into her other passion – animal welfare.
“I’d like to be remembered as somebody who made a difference,” she says.