Dame Angela Lansbury, DBE, widely honoured and adored star of the stage, silver screen and family television sets worldwide, has died. A statement by her children confirmed that the beloved actress died “peacefully in her sleep” at home in Los Angeles early Tuesday morning, just five days prior to her 97th birthday.
With a career spanning eight decades, Lansbury had been referred to as one of the last remaining stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. From her first film role as the conniving cockney maid in “Gaslight” (1944) to her final movie appearance as the Balloon Lady in 2018’s “Mary Poppins Returns”, Lansbury built a storied career that surprisingly started off with two Academy Awards nominations for Best Supporting Actress in her first two years of film roles. In 1962, she was nominated again for her role as malevolent and controlling mother Eleanor Iselin in “The Manchurian Candidate”. Other audience movie favourites from Lansbury include has roles as Miss Eglantine Price in “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971) and the adorable Mrs. Potts in the animated musical “Beauty and the Beast” (1991).
In 2013, at 88, Lansbury was given an Academy Honorary Award recognizing her stellar body of work and lifetime achievement in film. In response to winning the honour, Lansbury quipped, “I feel really undeserving of this gorgeous chap.”
Born in 1925 in London’s Regent Park neighbourhood, Lansbury discovered her passions for film and acting while in high school in the late 1930s. After losing her politician father Edgar to cancer in 1935, Lansbury found solace in playing characters and studied both acting and music before the start of the Blitz caused her mother, Irish actress Moyna Macgill, to move the family to the U.S. Lansbury had already started her acting education in London and continued on in New York after relocating.
A film contract with MGM kept her occupied in her early career, but by the 1950s Lansbury wanted to return more frequently to the live stage and made her Broadway debut in “Hotel Paradiso” in 1957. Throughout the 1960s to early 2000’s, many more notable stage roles and five Tony Awards followed for her roles in “Mame”, “The Madwoman of Chaillot”, “Gypsy”, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and in 2009 for “Blithe Spirit”. Lansbury reprised her role as Madame Arcati in “Blithe Spirit” for Mirvish Productions at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre in 2015.
While Lansbury enjoyed a very successful and varied 75-year career in both film and theatre, she is best known internationally as the iconic mystery-author-turned-detective Jessica Fletcher in the long running television series Murder, She Wrote. From 1984 to 1996, Fletcher tenaciously hunted for clues and caught many murderers in and around the fictional fishing village of Cabot Cove, Maine – a village with an alarming murder rate. A story in The New York Times once calculated that ” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>over two percent of Cabot Cove residents had met a violent and untimely end.
Airing every weeknight week for well over a decade, Murder, She Wrote is a perennial favourite of VisionTV viewers, and Lansbury’s loss has been felt deeply. VisionTV’s social media includes comments such as “I still watch her on a daily basis. My condolences to her family, it feels like she is part of mine” and “thanks to airing Murder, She Wrote reruns in perpetuity, Jessica/Angela will always be with us.”
The connections made with viewers of “Murder, She Wrote” around the globe was a source of pride for Lansbury.
“The interesting thing is that Murder, She Wrote has given me more worldwide attention than any role I ever played in movies or on stage,” Lansbury told the audience while accepting her 2013 Honorary Oscar. “And it’s a wonderful thing to be known, you know, in Spain and Portugal, Paris, France and Germany and everywhere. To have a whole, worldwide career. That’s what television does for you.”
Even with 19 nominations, 12 of them for “Murder, She Wrote”, an Emmy Award remained elusive for Lansbury throughout her career. Still, her biggest reward came with the satisfaction of how her craft affected an audience. “Bringing humour and bringing happiness and joy to an audience is a wonderful opportunity in life, believe me,” she is widely quoted as saying.
In her personal life, Lansbury married actor Richard Cromwell in 1945 but, the troubled relationship only lasted until 1946. In 1949, she married actor Peter Shaw and the couple enjoyed a union that lasted 54 years until Shaw’s death in 2003. Together, they had two children, Anthony and Deirdre, born in 1952 and 1953. Shaw also had a son, David, from a previous relationship, who would become president of Shaw and Lansbury’s production company, Carymore Productions. Anthony went into the television production business as well and directed many episodes of Murder, She Wrote.
When it comes to Lansbury’s universal and admirable appeal as a performer and person, writer Tim Gray summed it up in a 2020 article in Variety, “Lansbury has created a 77-year career and nobody has a bad word to say about her.”
Dame Angela Lansbury lives on on VisionTV as Jessica Fletcher, the founding member of our Detective Dream Team, in Murder, She Wrote Mondays to Fridays at 7pm ET.