Arts & Entertainment

Jessica Walter dies at 80

By: Mo Juenger, World News Editor

Jessica Walter, a lifelong acting legend, died at age 80 on Thursday. Early in life, she starred in Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Movie; later, she earned her fame as matriarch Lucille Bluth on hit television show Arrested Development. 

Walter earned an Emmy in 1975 for her titular role in the series Amy Prentiss. Her character as a San Francisco police chief spoke to women around the country as Walter’s character dealt with city crime, sexism in the workplace and being a single mother. 

At age thirty, she starred as a crazed radio fan who stalked Eastwood in Play Misty for Me. The role spurred a pattern for Walter, who would go on to play powerful and intimidating women for the rest of her career. 

She relished the opportunities to play a femme fatale or a rude and relentless mother. “These are the fun roles,” she said, decrying “vanilla” characters. 

In the 1980s, Walter had a stint on Broadway playing Evangeline Harcourt in “Anything Goes.” 

Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.com

Later in life, Walter worked primarily in television, finishing her career with the 2009-2021 animated series Archer. She co-starred with H. Jon Benjamin, playing the role of raunchy mother and secret agent Malory Archer. 

Benjamin praised the star on Twitter after her passing, calling her “an unparalleled talent.” 

“So funny. So insanely good in everything she was in. Wonderful to be around. I will miss her,” he added. 

Will Arnett, who played her son Gob on Arrested Development, also expressed his condolences. 

“We first met on a pilot in ‘96 and I was instantly blown away. I’m fortunate to have had a front row seat to her brilliance for 25 years,” Arnett said. 

This role in Archer was reminiscent of her early-aughts performance as Lucille Bluth, an obscenely wealthy wife and mother who berates her children as they deal with the imprisonment of their father. In both roles, Walter played the romantic partner of actor Jeffrey Tambor. 

The pair had a complicated relationship, with Walter noting in a New York Times interview that Tambor had been verbally abusive to her on the set of Arrested Development. She publicly forgave her co-star during the interview, though she rescinded her support for the actor after he was accused of sexual harassment. 

Walter married twice: first to Broadway stage manager Ross Bowman and later to actor Ron Leibman, until his death in 2019. 

She is survived by her daughter Brooke, who works as an executive at ABC Family, and her grandson Micah. Brooke announced Walter’s death via Deadline, adding that the actress died peacefully in her sleep.