Angela Lansbury, Oscar winner and ‘Murder, She Wrote’ actress, dead at 96
( NYPost )
Angela Lansbury, the Oscar and five-time Tony winner with a storied screen career that began nearly 75 years ago with an MGM contract, has died. She was 96.
The “Murder, She Wrote” star died at home in her sleep, according to a statement from her family sent to The Post.
The actress, who received an honorary Oscar in 2013, was just a few days short of her 97th birthday, they said.
“The children of Dame Angela Lansbury are sad to announce that their mother died peacefully in her sleep at home in Los Angeles at 1:30 AM today, Tuesday, October 11, 2022, just five days shy of her 97th birthday,” the statement read.
“In addition to her three children, Anthony, Deirdre and David, she is survived by three grandchildren, Peter, Katherine and Ian, plus five great grandchildren and her brother, producer Edgar Lansbury. She was proceeded in death by her husband of 53 years, Peter Shaw. A private family ceremony will be held at a date to be determined.”
Lansbury is known to many as widowed mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher from CBS’ “Murder, She Wrote,” which ran for 12 seasons from 1984 to 1996 as one of the most successful shows on the network. It also landed her a spot in the TV Hall of Fame in 1996.
“‘Murder, She Wrote’ has given me more worldwide attention than any other role I played in the movies or on the stage,” she said in 2013 while receiving an honorary Oscar. “It’s a wonderful thing to be known in Spain, Portugal, in Paris, in France and Germany and everywhere.”
A gifted singer, she also voiced Mrs. Potts in Disney’s 1991 cartoon “Beauty and the Beast” and sang the film’s titular track. In 2016, at age 90, Lansbury sang the film’s theme song live at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall for the movie’s 25th anniversary.
The London-born thespian also won five Tony Awards, most recently for Best Featured Actress in “Blithe Spirit” in 2009.
Her first Tony Award was in 1979, winning Best Musical Actress as Nellie Lovett in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” She also scored wins for Best Actress in a Musical for “Mame” in 1966, “Dear World” in 1969 and “Gypsy” in 1975.
At the 2022 Tony Awards, Lansbury received a special award for lifetime achievement but did not accept the award in person, which sparked concerns from her fans at the time.
In 2014, the late Queen Elizabeth II honored Lansbury with the Dame Commander of the British Empire title during a ceremony at Windsor Castle.
“It is a very proud day for me to be recognized by the country of my birth, and to meet the queen under these circumstances is a rare and lovely occasion,” Lansbury said.
Lansbury was born in London in 1925, to Irish actress Moyna Magill and English politician Edgar Lansbury. Her paternal grandfather, George Lansbury, served as British Labour Party leader from 1932 to 1935.
Despite growing up in a prominent, upper-class family, Lansbury’s childhood was marred by tragedy and upheaval. At just 9 years old, her father passed away from stomach cancer. At 15, Lansbury’s mother moved her to New York amid the London Blitz.
In a 1998 sit-down with the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, Lansbury recalled the transatlantic immigration, saying her actress mom feared Britain would be overtaken by Nazis.
“My mother sold everything that she could and we got on a boat,” she stated.
After settling in North America, the teenage Lansbury was eager to follow in her mother’s acting footsteps. She scored her first showbiz gig as a performer at the Samovar Club making $60 a week — a sum which she considered a small fortune. The budding entertainer also secured a scholarship to the American Theatre Wing and later moved with her mom to Los Angeles.
At the age of just 17, she accepted her first film role in George Cukor’s “Gaslight” with a cast led by Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. The 1944 movie was a bona fide smash, garnering seven Academy Award nominations, including one for Lansbury as Best Supporting Actress.
Lansbury became an overnight sensation, recalling her rapid rise to fame in a 2014 interview with the Daily Mail.
“I was wrapping Christmas gifts in a department store one minute, then playing opposite Ingrid Bergman the next — it was little short of a miracle,” she stated.
The doe-eyed actress signed a seven-year deal with MGM, going on to star in a slew of movies for the film company, including “National Velvet” (1944). She appeared in the flick alongside Elizabeth Taylor, with the pair embarking on a lifelong friendship.
The following year, Lansbury nabbed her second Oscar nomination for her role in MGM’s “A Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945), which co-starred Hurd Hatfield and George Sanders.
Almost two decades later, Lansbury secured a third Oscar nomination for her role as Eleanor Iselin in John Frankenheimer’s 1962 adaptation of “The Manchurian Candidate.”
In 1988, she recalled the moment Frankenheimer “slammed” the Richard Condon novel down in front of her and ordered her to go home and read it. “I took it home and I read it and I called him up and said, ‘Wow,’” the actress stated.
“We felt because of the extraordinary subject matter and the way in which the plot was devised, it was so extraordinary that it was going to either sink or swim. And it swam and it’s still swimming,” Lansbury further declared of the film — which is revered as an enduring classic.
She continued to star on the big screen, appearing in films such as “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971) and “Death on the Nile” (1978).
Despite three Oscar nominations (and an honorary Oscar in 2013), Lansbury confessed to feeling frustrated that she was never a bigger movie star.
“I was a supporting actress and a featured player, but I wanted it all,” she said in 2011. “I was lucky that especially during my seven years at MGM, most of the actors and directors were the absolute best in their field.”
Despite her impressive stage and screen career, it was Lansbury’s role in TV’s “Murder, She Wrote,” that became her best-remembered part.
Lansbury told Page Six in 2016 that she decided to take the TV role in 1984 — after 40 years in showbiz — because it was a steady paycheck.
“I decided it was time to get out of the theater and get into television, because we had to have an annuity,” she said.
The show ran for 12 seasons and saw Lansbury nominated for 12 Primetime Emmy Awards — but she never nabbed a gong for the iconic role.
Away from the stage and screen, Lansbury’s personal life was similarly eventful.
In 1945, the budding starlet married the much-older actor Richard Cromwell. She was 19, and he was 35 — but the marriage lasted less than one year. However, the pair remained close friends until Cromwell’s death in 1960. It was widely reported after his death that the star may have been gay.
In 1949, Lansbury married English actor Peter Shaw — to whom she was wed for 54 years, until his death in 2003.
The couple had two children together, Anthony and Deidre. The actress also became a stepmother to Shaw’s older son, David.
The family’s domestic bliss was punctuated, however, when Anthony and Deidre turned to drugs in the 1960s.
“It started with cannabis but moved on to heroin,” Lansbury told the Daily Mail in 2014. “It pains me to say it but, at one stage, Deidre was in with a crowd led by Charles Manson. She was one of many youngsters who knew him – and they were fascinated. He was an extraordinary character, charismatic in many ways, no question about it.”
The two children were eventually able to become sober, with both going on to forge successful careers. Anthony even directed his mother in 68 episodes of “Murder, She Wrote.”