Mary Tyler Moore Was Plagued with Guilt over Only & Longtime Estranged Son’s Death at 24

Mary Tyler Moore may have had an outstanding acting career, but it negatively impacted her personal life and relationships. When her only son died, she was plagued with guilt.

Most parents agree that losing a child would be the most unexpected and painful experience. Sadly, the multi-awarded Actress and Producer Mary Tyler Moore knew it firsthand.

She lost her only son, Richard Meeker when he was just 24 years old. She faced guilt about his passing as she considered she could have been a better mother.

Mary Tyler Moore and her son, Richard Meeker, in February 1968 [left]. Moore on July 14, 2012 in New York City [right] | Photo: Getty Images

Richard was born in 1956 when Moore was 18 years old and in a relationship with her first husband, Richard Meeker Sr. The former couple parted ways when Richard was six years old, and she then married CBS Executive Grant Tinker in 1962. 

Moore had a hard time adjusting to parenthood from the start, as her biggest priority always seemed to be her career. After giving birth, the actress started appearing on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” 

Although the project shot her into mainstream stardom, it also demanded most of her time. During a significant portion of her career, Richard lived with his father in Fresno, California.

Mary Tyler Moore, circa 1970 | Photo: Getty Images

However, things got complicated when Meeker Sr. was transferred out of Fresno. Richard didn’t want to leave town and certainly didn’t want to live with his mother, so he convinced his parents to let him stay in Fresno alone to finish his senior year

Agreeing to Richard’s request wasn’t the best decision as he started doing drugs and even got involved in a predicament with his drug dealer. He entered rehab, got better, and moved back with his mother before graduating from high school.

During most of his life, Richard was rarely photographed with his mom and hardly ever made headlines. It was probably Moore’s way to protect him from the problems that come with notoriety at a young age. Still, growing up with famous parents proved challenging for him.

According to Herbie J. Pilato, the author of “Mary: The Mary Taylor Moore Story,” the actress once admitted she was not the best mother. Her busy schedule negatively impacted her relationship with her son.

[Tinker] asked Moore to sit down before telling her that “Richie” was dead.

In her 1995 autobiography “After All,” Moore addressed her parenting again, admitting to demanding a lot from her son. After taking the blame for “a lot of alienation,” the actress added

“By the time Richie was 5, I had already let him down. When he needed me the most, I was busier and even more self-concerned than I had been when he was an impressionable infant.”

What Moore didn’t know was that she would never have enough time to make amends with her son as he tragically passed away sooner than expected.

Portrait of Mary Tyler Moore’s son, Richard G. Meeker, in September 1980 | Photo: Getty Images

On October 15, 1980, the ring of Moore’s phone woke her up at 5 a.m. When she picked up, her then-estranged husband Tinker asked Moore to sit down before telling her that “Richie” was dead.  

Richard, who also worked at CBS-TV as a messenger and studied at the University of Southern California, accidentally killed himself with a shotgun. 

Mary Tyler Moore on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images

Authorities eventually revealed that Richard, an avid gun collector who enjoyed target shooting, was playing with the gun, loading and unloading it before the tragedy happened. 

Judy Vasquez, one of the two college coeds that lived with Richard, revealed that he was talking to his girlfriend in Fresno when he accidentally fired the gun.

After Richard’s passing, some reports claimed he died by suicide, but Moore denied the allegations. The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office also conducted an investigation and found it was indeed an accident.

Mary Tyler Moore on July 14, 2012 in New York City | Photo: Getty Images

Richard’s former colleague told Pilato that everything seemed okay in the young man’s life, and he never seemed like an unhappy person.

One of his superiors at CBS labeled Richard as a normal and well-adjusted person. He added that nothing could have ever made him believe Richard’s death was anything but an accident, making the suicide reports nothing but unfortunate rumors.

She needed a psychotherapist’s help, but she also did what she knew best: fill her schedule with acting gigs.

Mary Tyler Moore on March 19, 2006 in Santa Monica, California | Photo: Getty Images

As expected, the person who suffered the most with Richard’s passing was Moore. Pilato wrote that the actress was “devasted” by her son’s passing and dealt with guilt for feeling like she could have been a better parent. He wrote

“After he died, Moore said she wished she would’ve had children later or at least have more children to do a better job as a mother than what she did with Richie.”

In her memoir, Moore wrote that she spread her son’s ashes into the Owen River.  She shared that as she was emptying the container into the rushing water, she started praying.

After a while, her prayer became an outraged demand as she screamed at the sky, “you take care of him.” The actress soon realized she couldn’t overcome Richard’s death on her own.

She needed a psychotherapist’s help, but she also did what she knew best: fill her schedule with acting gigs. Moore also personally answered the over 6,000 letters of condolence she received in her hand.

Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke at Hollywood Palladium in Hollywood, California in March 2003 | Photo: Getty Images

In January 2017, almost 37 years after Richard died, Moore joined him in heaven. She passed away in Greenwich, Connecticut, due to cardiopulmonary arrest following pneumonia. She was 80 years old. 

While her personal life was far from perfect, she is still considered a Hollywood legend and a feminist icon. According to Author Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, Moore had America thinking about equal pay, birth control, and sexual independence in the 1970s. Armstrong added:

“She only wanted to play a great character, and […] that character also happened to be single, female, over 30, professional, independent, and not particularly obsessed with [marriage].”

Mary Tyler Moore rehearsing for the “Dick Van Dyke Show” on December 2, 1963 in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images

Moore also influenced younger female sitcom stars, including Jennifer Aniston and Debra Messing. Even Tina Fey revealed she developed her “30 Rock” show and character by watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Rest in peace, legend.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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