January 26, 2017 – After a ground-breaking career that survived decades and lent a voice to women in the workplace, the recovery community lost one of our own, actress Mary Tyler Moore, at the age of 80 on Wednesday. The woman who turned the world on with her smile spoke out about the disease that lay masked behind it and showed us that tragedy and addiction are obstacles, but don’t define us.
Moore, whose mother also battled alcoholism, lost her sister at the age of 21 to a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs. In 1980, her only son would also battle addiction before accidentally shooting himself. Fifteen years later, she spoke out on Larry King LIVE about the interference of addiction with her diabetes.
“It’s not good,” said Moore. “It really isn’t good. Triglycerides, which come from alcohol in your body, throw things off. And also, when you’re drinking, you’re not as responsible as you have to be to check your blood and take the right amount of insulin.”
When asked how she beat it, Moore said she made up her mind to stop.
“I went to the Betty Ford Center and got a lot of education there and a lot of spirit and determination,” said Moore. “Somebody said something. It’s a cliché, you’ve heard it a hundred times, but they said if you want to get all the air out of a glass, what do you do? There’s no way to do it but fill it with something else. And that something else is joy of living, reading, being creative, knowing you’re doing the right thing.”
Moore said she didn’t think she’d ever be able to have a glass of wine again, nor did she want to, and talked about how good non-alcoholic wine tasted.
“Every once in awhile I’ll think I should have a – and I don’t even get through to the last word in the sentence,” said Moore. “That’s how fleeting it is. And I’ll think, isn’t that funny.”
While finishing his senior year in high school in Fresno, Moore’s son, Richie, fell prey to drug addiction.
“It wasn’t until a frantic, sobbing Richie called home in February 1973, begging sanctuary from a cocaine dealer who had threatened to kill him over some unpaid debts, that I realized the extent of the tangle that was now my son’s life,” Moore told People Magazine. “We were fortunate to find a doctor who specialized in young people.”
During the next two years, Richie would find sobriety and finish high school. It was at that time in her life that Moore herself would fall prey to alcoholism.
“In case there’s any doubt about the acute state of my alcoholism, and the insanity it produced, I can recall with sickening clarity that on more than one occasion I played Russian roulette with my car,” said Moore. “What’s more, some unwary, innocent people played with me.”
Moore wrote in her autobiography that she anesthetized herself after her divorce.
“Nothing was so tough I couldn’t get through it until 5:30 or 6,” said Moore. “Then the effects of vodka on the rocks made it all go away.”
In October of 1980, Mary got the phone call that is every mother’s nightmare. Her son Richie had been sitting on his bed watching TV with a gun in his hand, and it had killed him. The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office confirmed the death an accident. Moore writes that when scattering her son’s ashes at sea she screamed at the sky, “You take care of him!”
Before her death, Moore experienced every side of addiction as a family disease. The daughter, the sister, the wife, the self, and the mother. And by way of miracle, the smile that turned the world on never lost its luster but lit the way to decades of a life lived in recovery. Her disease did not define her, and neither should it define you. For those in recovery, the lyrics to the opening theme song of the television show that made us fall in love with her have never been so promising as in the legacy she leaves behind: “You’re going to make it after all.”