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Arrested Development star Jessica Walter passed away at 80

Tue 30th Mar 2021

Jessica Walter, the Emmy-winning actress best known as boozy matriarch Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development, has died aged 80.

No cause of death was given, but Deadline reported that she died in her sleep.

"It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of my beloved mum Jessica," Walters' daughter, Brooke Bowman, told Deadline. "A working actor for over six decades, her greatest pleasure was bringing joy to others through her storytelling both on screen and off. While her legacy will live on through her body of work, she will also be remembered by many for her wit, class and overall joie de vivre."  

Portia de Rossi, Jessica Walter and Jason Bateman in Arrested Development.
Portia de Rossi, Jessica Walter and Jason Bateman in Arrested Development.

Walter, who won a 1975 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series for the NBC drama Amy Prentiss, was nominated for an Emmy for her Arrested Development role in 2005, as well as for parts in TV series including Trapper John, M.D. and The Streets of San Francisco.

Walter, who voiced domineering spy agency head (and difficult mother) Malory Archer in the FXX animated series Archer, is also remembered for roles in films including Clint Eastwood's directorial debut, Play Misty for Me.

The prolific, Brooklyn-born actress was an especially familiar TV presence for decades, appearing in a wide variety of series including Good Girls, At Home With Amy Sedaris, 90210, One Life to Live, Coach, Murder, She Wrote, The Love Boat and many more.

In addition, the New Yorker appeared in numerous Broadway shows, most recently in the 2011 production of Anything Goes, which won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

In 2018, the Westchester resident - who always held a place in her heart for the Upper West Side and Broadway - shared with The Post her enduring love of New York City. "I like walking mostly everywhere," she said. "Every day is an adventure here."

Walter's husband, Emmy-winning actor Ron Leibman, died in 2019 at age 82.

Walter's Arrested Development co-stars remembered her legacy on social media. David Cross, who played Tobias Fünke on the show, called her "an absolutely brilliant actress and amazing talent," adding, "I consider myself privileged and very lucky to have been able to work with her. Lucille Bluth is one of TV's greatest characters."

Tony Hale, who portrayed Lucille Bluth's son Buster, tweeted a selfie with Walter, sharing that she "was a force, and her talent and timing were unmatched. Rest In Peace Mama Bluth."

The oft-quoted Arrested Development actress had a deep love for many of her co-stars from that show - especially Michael Cera, whom she loved in Broadway's The Waverly Gallery in 2018.

"Michael is always brilliant. I always follow him wherever he goes," she told The Post in 2017.

However, behind the scenes of the comedy, it wasn't always laughs. In an emotional interview in 2018, Walter said her on-screen husband Jeffrey Tambor verbally harassed her on set. Tambor was later accused of inappropriate behaviour on the set of Transparent, from which he was eventually written off.

Jason Bateman, who played Walter's on-screen son in Arrested Development, came under fire for belittling Walter in the interview. He later apologised for "mansplaining" what Walter experienced.

Although Walter was known for her out-there depictions in Arrested Development and Archer, she apparently had a more demure side in real life.  

Cast of Arrested Development.
Cast of Arrested Development.

In a 2019 interview with The Post, Archer executive producer Matt Thompson remembered having to explain to her some of the off-colour terms used in the show.

"Some of the most uncomfortable moments we have had is explaining sexually based slang to Jessica Walter," Thompson said with a laugh. "Hear this in Jessica Walter's voice: 'Tell me about this tea-bagging.' Then you have to methodically, like a lawyer, tell her. It's not what can we get away with; it's what we are comfortable explaining. Because there's a point where it's like, 'Oh, I don't want to say this to her.' "

In 2012, she told AV Club she was drawn to quirky roles like the one in Arrested Development because they are "juicy," adding that they are "much better than playing the vanilla ingenues" and noting that she has "played lots of mothers from hell."

This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission

Originally published as Arrested Development star dead at 80