Angela Lansbury, the London-born actress who for seven decades brought a commanding, feminine presence to stage, screen and television – especially in the 12 years she played the fearless novelist policewoman Jessica Fletcher on CBS’ The Murder She Wrote – is dead. She was 96 years old.
“The children of Dame Angela Lansbury are saddened to announce that their mother passed away peacefully in her sleep at her home in Los Angeles at 1:30 a.m. today, Tuesday October 11, 2022, just five days before her 97th birthday.” his family said. said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
“In addition to her three children, Anthony, Deirdre and David, she is survived by three grandchildren, Peter, Katherine and Ian, as well as five great-grandchildren and her brother, producer Edgar Lansbury,” adds the communicated. “She was predeceased by her husband of 53 years, Peter Shaw. A private family ceremony will be held on a date to be determined.”
Born Angela Brigid Lansbury, the character’s future actress (the voice of Mrs. Potts in the Disney animated film The beauty and the Beast) and lead actress (the eccentric Broadway aunt in the musical Momlisten)) was the daughter of Belfast-born actress Moyna MacGill and her second husband, lumber merchant Edgar Lansbury. “A true Irish beauty,” is how Lansbury described her mother in a 1993 PEOPLE profile.
Eager to lead her daughter’s future, Moyna took young Angela to perform at the Old Vic in London and enrolled her in art and dance school, until the family – Angela and her twin brothers younger (by five years), Edgar and Bruce, who both later became successful producers and a half-sister – found themselves nearly broke when the eldest Edgar died in 1934. Angela was 9 years old.
The war only made the family’s situation worse, so in 1940 the Lansburys moved to New York, where Moyna restarted her acting career and went on tour while Angela babysat her siblings. . Moving her brood to Los Angeles and now working in a department store, Moyna helped her daughter pass a screen test at MGM – which catapulted the 17-year-old into her Oscar-nominated film debut as Cockney Maid in Ingrid Bergman-Charles Boyer, classic 1944 thriller gas lamp.
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“It was thanks to my mother who recognized in me an ability to cut out, to pretend, to run around being someone other than the little girl that I was,” Lansbury said. Studio Masterpiece podcast in 2018 to get into show business. “It made her realize that I was a natural, and she, bless her heart, made the decisions for me at a very, very, very young age.”
The following year brought another Oscar nomination, this time for the role of singer Sibyl Vane in MGM’s Dorian Gray’s photowho had been on the heels of Lansbury having played the sister of a very young Elizabeth Taylor in the beloved national velvet.
Yet being contracted to the biggest Dream Factory on the planet did little to boost the teenager’s self-confidence, especially with the gorgeous Ava Gardner, Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr working on adjacent soundstages.
“I was a young woman looking for glamor and attention, and I didn’t really get it,” Lansbury told PEOPLE. “So what did I do?” I got married at 19.
The groom was handsome leading man Richard Cromwell, who turned out to be gay, which Lansbury only learned when they split nine months later. “My first big, big romance. It was a terrible tragedy,” she said, adding that the two remained friends until his death from cancer in 1960.
A new start
Shortly after the divorce, she met Peter Shaw, a British actor who later became a prominent Hollywood agent. They married in London in 1949, with Moyna serving as matron of honor.
Film, live television and Broadway roles followed, including playing Elvis Presley’s mother in the 1961 hit, blue hawaii – even though Lansbury was just 10 years older than Elvis.
A more substantial maternal role, like Laurence Harvey’s 1962’s Monster of a Mother The Manchu Candidate (this time she was only three years older than her on-screen son), established Lansbury’s reputation as a character actress and earned her a third Academy Award nomination.
Four years later, she made the cover of Life magazine like the Broadway toast in Momand won the first of five Tony Awards, a record equaled only by Julie Harris, then finally beaten in 2014, by Audra McDonald.
Family took priority
Problems of a very personal nature – the Shaw children, Anthony (born in 1952) and Deirdre (in 1953), both used hard drugs, the parents discovered – forced a family move in 1971 to County Cork, in Ireland, which, Lansbury said, “was one of the last places on earth that was fairly drug-free.”
Shuttled between Ireland, London and New York for the next decade until the children were clean, Lansbury rebounded professionally in 1978, when she originated the iconic role of murder accomplice Mrs. Lovett, in Stephen Sondheim’s musical opera on Broadway. Sweeney Todd.
Along with winning another Tony, Lansbury’s path was opened to the role she will likely be remembered for and certainly most loved, Jessica Fletcher. Beginning in 1984, The Murder She Wrote put Lansbury at the center of 256 episodes, earning him an impressive 12 Emmy nominations — though, oddly, never a win.
“It’s terribly difficult to tell the difference between the two,” Peter Shaw told PEOPLE when asked to compare his wife to Fletcher. (Shaw, 84, died in 2003.) “Angela has this wonderful common sense, and that’s one of the beautiful things that Jessica has.”
Gumming, indeed. After solving her last televised murder, Lansbury embarked on numerous other projects, on television and on Broadway. And though that Emmy continued to elude her (in all, she was nominated 18 times), she received a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 1996, an American National Medal of the Arts in 1997, a Kennedy Center Honor in 2000 and, in a 2014 ceremony at Windsor Castle, was officially named Dame Angela by Queen Elizabeth – back when she played the spiritualist Madame Arcati in a London production by Noel Coward joyful spirit.
Lansbury received the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater in June, marking his sixth Tony Award overall.
The Broadway legend won four Tonys between when she appeared as Mame Dennis in 1966 Mom and Mrs. Lovett in 1979 Sweeney Todd: The demon barber of Fleet Street. She went on to win a fifth Tony for 2009 joyful spirithis first Tony for his performance in a play against a musical.
“It’s been an exceptional life, especially for me,” Lansbury told her peers when she received the SAG honor. “And the good news is, girls, the opportunities are there for us at all ages. I mean, look at the exquisite work of women in film today. I feel absolutely galvanized to carry on and embarking on a new career goals…After all, a career, as far as I’m concerned, is always a work in progress.”
At 92, the actress still had no intention of slowing down. After starring in PBS Little woman miniseries where she worked with director Vanessa Caswill, the first female director she collaborated with in her 80-year career, Lansbury was asked if the series would be her final act.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it my swan song. It’s not the last thing I’ll be doing. I already do other things but it’s been said to be my swan song. But it’s not,” said Lansbury, who played the Balloon Lady in 2018. Mary Poppins Returns.
She added: “I know at 92 I should be thinking in terms of a swan, but I don’t know if you have the energy and the enthusiasm and the interest, I don’t think you really stop. .”