(NEXSTAR) – Angela Lansbury, the beloved actress who starred in “Murder, She Wrote” and various Broadway shows has died, her family confirmed in a statement to multiple outlets. She was 96.
Lansbury’s family says she “died peacefully in her sleep at home in Los Angeles” on Tuesday. She would have turned 97 on Sunday, Oct. 16.
The London-born actress is well known for multiple roles, including the voice of Mrs. Potts in Disney’s animated “Beauty and the Beast,” Elvis Presley’s mother in “Blue Hawaii,” the PBS miniseries “Little Women,” and Jessica Fletcher in “Murder, She Wrote.”
According to her IMDb page, her more recent roles included appearances in “Buttons, A New Musical Film,” “Mary Poppins Returns,” and “The Grinch,” all of which were released in 2018.
Lansbury won five Tony Awards for her Broadway performances and a lifetime achievement award. She earned Academy Award nominations as supporting actress for two of her first three films, “Gaslight” (1945) and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1946), and was nominated again in 1962 for “The Manchurian Candidate” and her deadly portrayal of a Communist agent and the title character’s mother.
Her stardom came in middle age when she became the hit of the New York theater, winning Tony Awards for “Mame” (1966), “Dear World” (1969), “Gypsy” (1975) and “Sweeney Todd” (1979).
But Lansbury’s widest fame began in 1984 when she launched “Murder, She Wrote” on CBS. Based loosely on Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories, the series centered on Jessica Fletcher, a middle-aged widow and former substitute school teacher living in the seaside village of Cabot Cove, Maine. She had achieved notice as a mystery novelist and amateur sleuth.
Though nominated 12 times for her leading role in “Murder, She Wrote,” Lansbury never received an Emmy. She was, however, inducted into the TV Hall of Fame in 1996.
Additional television work brought her 18 total Emmy nominations but she never won one. She holds the record for the most Golden Globe nominations and wins for best actress in a television drama series and the most Emmy nominations for lead actress in a drama series.
In 2014, Queen Elizabeth II made Lansbury a Dame in honor of her accomplishments as an actress, Sky News reports.
She was given the name Angela Brigid Lansbury when she was born in London on Oct. 16, 1925. Her family was distinguished: a grandfather who was the fiery head of the Labour Party; her father the owner of a veneer factory; her mother a successful actress, Moyna MacGill.
The Depression forced her father’s factory into bankruptcy, and for a few years the family lived on money her mother had saved from her theater career. Angela suffered a shattering blow when her beloved father died in 1935. The tragedy forced her to become self-reliant — “almost a surrogate husband to my mother.”
When England was threatened with German bombings in 1940, Moyna Lansbury struggled through red tape and won passage to America for her family. With the help of two sponsoring families, they settled in New York and lived on $150 a month. To add to their income, Angela at 16 landed a nightclub job in Montreal doing impersonations and songs.
Moyna moved the family to Hollywood, hoping to find acting work. Failing that, she and Angela wrapped packages and sold clothing at a department store. An actor friend suggested Angela would be ideal for the role of Sybil Vane in “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” which was being prepared at MGM. She tested, and studio boss Louis B. Mayer ordered: “Sign that girl!”
She was just 19 when her first film, “Gaslight,” earned her an Oscar nomination, but MGM didn’t know what to do with the new contract player. She appeared as Elizabeth Taylor’s older sister in “National Velvet,” Judy Garland’s nemesis in “The Harvey Girls,” Walter Pidgeon’s spiteful wife in “If Winter Comes,” Queen Anne in “The Three Musketeers.”
Tired of playing roles twice her own age, she left MGM to freelance but the results were much the same: the mother of Warren Beatty in “All Fall Down,” of Elvis Presley in “Blue Hawaii,” of Carroll Baker in “Harlow,” and of Laurence Harvey in “The Manchurian Candidate,” in which she unforgettably manipulates her son and helps set off a killing spree.
In the mid-1940s, Lansbury had a disastrous nine-month marriage to Richard Cromwell, a soulful young star of the 1930s. In 1949, she married Peter Shaw, a Briton who had been under an acting contract to MGM, then became a studio executive and agent. He assumed the role of Lansbury’s manager. They had two children, Peter and Deirdre; he had a son David by a previous marriage.
The 1950s were a troubled time for the Shaws. Angela’s career slowed down; her mother died after a battle with cancer; Peter underwent a hip operation; the children were on drugs; the family house in Malibu burned to the ground.
Lansbury later said of the fire: “It’s like cutting off a branch, a big, luscious branch of your life and sealing it off with a sealer so it doesn’t bleed, That’s what you do. That’s how the human mind deals with those things. You have to pick up the pieces and go on.”
Weary of 20 years of typecasting, Lansbury tried her luck on Broadway. Her first two shows — “Anyone Can Whistle” and “Hotel Paradiso” (with Bert Lahr) — flopped.
Then came “Mame.” Rosalind Russell declined to repeat her classic role as Patrick Dennis’s dizzy aunt in a musical version. So did Mary Martin and Ethel Merman. Others considered: Bette Davis, Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, Beatrice Lillie, Judy Garland. Composer Jerry Herman chose Lansbury.
The opening on May 24, 1966, was a sensation. One critic wondered that “the movies’ worn, plump old harridan with a snakepit for a mouth” could turn out to be “the liveliest dame to kick up her heels since Carol Channing in ‘Hello, Dolly.‘”
After her “Sweeney Todd” triumph, Lansbury returned to Hollywood to try television. She was offered a sitcom with Charles Durning or “Murder, She Wrote.” The producers had wanted Jean Stapleton, who declined. Lansbury accepted.
During the series’ long run, she managed to star in TV movies, to be host of Emmy and Tony shows and even to provide the voice for a Disney animated feature. She played Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast” and sang the title song. “This was really a breakthrough for me,” she said of her young following. “It acquainted me with a generation that I possibly couldn’t have contacted.”
In 2000, Lansbury withdrew from a planned Broadway musical, “The Visit,” because she needed to help her husband recover from heart surgery. “The kind of commitment required of an artist carrying a multimillion-dollar production has to be 100%,” she said in a letter to the producers.
Her husband died in 2003.
She was back on Broadway in 2012 in a revival of “The Best Man,” sharing a stage with James Earl Jones, John Larroquette, Candice Bergen, Eric McCormack, Michael McKean and Kerry Butler. She also recently co-starred in Emma Thompson’s “Nanny McPhee” and with Jim Carrey in “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”
At the 2022 Tony Awards, Len Cariou — her “Sweeney Todd” co-star — accepted the lifetime Tony given to Lansbury. “There is no one with whom I’d rather run a cutthroat business with,” Cariou said.
In 1990, Lansbury philosophized: “I have sometimes drawn back from my career. To what? Home. Home is the counterweight to the work.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.