Mary Tyler Moore ‘was nearly blinded’ by diabetes in her final years as she fought the disease: husband

The TV icon's widower, Dr. Robert Levine, is executive producer of the new documentary 'Being Mary Tyler Moore'

Mary Tyler Moore, who lit up the screen with her million-watt smile during the ‘60s and ‘70s, was left nearly in the dark during the final months of her life.

The actress, who starred in "The Dick Van Dyke Show" before charming audiences with her spunk in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," was left nearly blind from a decades-long battle with diabetes. She passed away in 2017 at age 80 from a cardiopulmonary arrest after she contracted pneumonia.

The star was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 33 following a miscarriage.

Mary Tyler Moore wearing a dark blazer and a white blouse with a coral necklace testifying

Actress Mary Tyler Moore in 2009 testifying at a Senate hearing for the need for federal funding for Type 1 diabetes research. (Paul Morigi/WireImage)

"Over time, she suffered many of the complications of diabetes," Moore’s husband, Dr. Robert Levine, told Fox News Digital. "But the one thing that had the greatest impact on her was the fact that she was nearly blinded by it in her later years. Mary had such narrowed visual fields and such limited central vision that she was unable to read. She was unable to walk across a room safely without bumping into things or tripping over things. And for a woman who was in her heart a dancer and so physically capable and so independent, just imagine what that would mean to you, to have your joy robbed from you."

"Visual loss from diabetes was a big issue for Mary," he added.


Moore is the subject of a new documentary premiering May 26 on HBO titled "Being Mary Tyler Moore." It features archival footage of Moore telling her story, interwoven with never-before-seen photos. It also features rare footage of the "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" test pilot. The film aims to examine Moore’s success in Hollywood, as well as her personal struggles when cameras stopped rolling.

Robert Levine wearing a blue blazer and black shirt

Dr. Robert Levine at the Los Angeles premiere of "Being Mary Tyler Moore" at the Ted Mann Theater on May 23, 2023. (Vincent Collyer/Variety via Getty Images)

Audiences also get to learn about the couple’s love story. Levine serves as an executive producer.

Moore was married twice before she met the cardiologist, first to film producer Richard Meeker from 1955 to 1961, and then to TV executive Grant Tinker from 1962 to 1981. In 1982 – two years after the death of Moore’s only child, she watched over her mother Marjorie, who fell ill with severe bronchitis after coming back from a trip to Europe. Moore called her regular doctor, who was unavailable. She then connected with Levine, who happened to be on call that day. He was working at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital.

Mary Tyler Moore holding a dancers pose

Mary Tyler Moore had dreams of becoming a dancer before she found success on television. (Getty Images)

"We all walk into relationships with baggage," Levine reflected. "I was a young doctor. I had no expectation in my life of actually ever having a relationship with anything or anyone other than medicine. That was my calling. That’s what I was committed to. When we met, I was not prepared to have a relationship with anyone. But as you see in her work, there was something so compelling about Mary, so genuine, so approachable. And all my usual barriers to interaction with people, my fears, were kind of reduced. They were eliminated."

A close-up of Mary Tyler Moore smiling next to Robert Levine

Mary Tyler Moore fell head over heels for Dr. Robert Levine, who was 15 years her junior. (HBO)

Moore was instantly smitten by the bespectacled doctor, who was 15 years her junior. As for Levine, he had no idea his patient’s daughter was a star. He insisted college and medical school kept him away from watching TV shows like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

After a second visit, Levine advised Moore, "If you need anything, just give me a call." Moore replied, "Does acute loneliness count? Is that a good enough reason to call?"

"I came back with something completely unexpected," Levine chuckled. "I said, ‘I can’t think of a better reason to be awakened at 3 a.m.’ But she allowed me to be natural, to be relaxed, to be uninhibited, to engage at the moment, which is something that I never really had done with a woman before. And so, our life together, our love, was just that. It was immediate. It was natural. It was an ease with which we both felt with one another that persisted through the years."

Mary Tyler Moore wearing a black dress next to Robert Levine wearing a tux

Mary Tyler Moore and Dr. Robert Levine married in 1983. The union lasted until Moore's death. (Getty Images)

A few days after the memorable quip, they made a dinner date. They went on to spend every weekend together. Moore would gush to friends that she was head over heels in love.

In 1983, the couple said, "I do." It was Levine’s first and only marriage. Moore’s former co-star and close friend Valerie Harper was a bridesmaid.

Director James Adolphus told Fox News Digital it was crucial to examine Moore’s triumphs and turmoils, the events that shaped her life and career.

Mary Tyler Moore wearing a brown sweater and matching skirt leaning into Ed Asner in a grey suit

"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" spawned the spinoffs "Rhoda" (1974-78), starring Valerie Harper, "Phyllis" (1975-77) starring Cloris Leachman, and "Lou Grant" (1977-82), starring Ed Asner, a rare drama to come from a comedy. (CBS Photo Archie/Getty Images)

"I came into this project having never seen a frame of anything she had ever done in her life," he explained. "She was only a reference and a Weezer song to me before I joined this project. I started with her autobiography… I understood she was a woman who led with vulnerability… And I learned what she meant to so many people. How she turned the world on with her smile. But she was a person who had to hide a more honest version of herself from the world to protect herself. Having to constantly uplift and inspire takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice. And a lot of that sacrifice was hiding from everyone… She led with a vulnerability, and I connected with her in a profound way."

"That was our guiding light – protecting Mary and those vulnerabilities," he shared.

On "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," Moore played Mary Richards, a confident Minneapolis TV news producer who was comfortable being single in her 30s. While she dated, she wasn’t desperate to get married. Before then, Moore was frazzled wife Laurie Petrie on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," who traded in housedresses for Capri pants to signify the modern American woman. She argued, "I don’t wear flowered frogs and high heels to vacuum. And none of my friends do either."

Mary Tyler Moore looking away from the camera on set wearing a long sleeved shirt and capri pants

In "The Dick Van Dyke Show," Mary Tyler Moore traded in the housedress of countless sitcom wives for Capri pants that were as fashionable as they were suited to a modern American woman. (HBO)

She was also a daring actress whose talents extended beyond comedy, Robert Redford once said. The actor directed her to an Oscar nomination in the 1980 drama "Ordinary People."

But when cameras stopped rolling, Moore was faced with personal struggles. As a child, her parents were both alcoholics, The New York Times reported. According to the outlet, Moore at one point arranged to live with her aunt, only choosing to see her parents on special occasions. 

Tragedy lingered. Moore's son Richard, who faced trouble with school and drugs, accidentally shot himself at age 24. Her younger sister, Elizabeth, passed away at age 21 from a combination of painkillers and alcohol. Her brother John was 47 when he died of kidney cancer.

placeholderIn her 1995 autobiography "After All," Moore admitted she helped her terminally ill brother try to commit suicide by feeding him ice cream laced with a deadly overdose of drugs. The attempt failed. He passed away three months later.


A close-up of Mary Tyler Moores son wearing a cowboy hat

Richard G. Meeker, the only son of Mary Tyler Moore, accidentally shot himself to death in 1980. He was 24. This photo was taken a month before his death. (Getty Images)

In 1984, Moore spent five weeks at the Betty Ford Clinic for alcohol abuse. Levine was by her side and even performed a two-week study of the fluctuations in his wife’s blood chemistry to see how drinking was impacting her diabetes. The social cocktails, he found, were affecting her health. With his encouragement, Moore welcomed sobriety with open arms.

Marty Tyler Moore in a dark suit being embraced by Dr. Robert Levine wearing a matching suit, a blue shirt and a colorful tie

Mary Tyler Moore spent five weeks at the Betty Ford Clinic in 1984. Dr. Robert Levine supported her along the way. (Theo Wargo/WireImage)

"Behind that smile, which she offered so generously and so freely, was a woman with great resilience," said Adolphus. "She was always about telling her truth."

Life with Levine was blissful for Moore. The couple, eager to lay down roots, purchased a home in upstate New York. They partnered with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, with both serving on the international board of directors. The pair later moved to Connecticut, where Moore embraced the role of being just another private resident.

She also tirelessly raised awareness of a disease that had long plagued her.

A black and white photo of Mary Tyler Moore dancing with her husband Dr. Robert Levine

Robert Levine and Mary Tyler Moore, both sporting Western gear at the Wild West Hoedown party for the Literacy Volunteers of NYC fundraiser. (Robin Platzer/Getty Images)

"Mary was just an enormous role model for an entire community of people with diabetes," said Levine. "Her leadership raised awareness about the disease, its challenges and the hope for research. She helped raise millions of dollars for the support of diabetes research. She was an advocate in front of Congress and in front of administrations. She knew she was someone the world loved, appreciated and trusted. And as someone who was personally living with diabetes, she wanted to help. She was determined to make a difference… Her last chapter was really about advocacy and social purpose."

placeholder"Mary’s life is so rich in the end," chimed Adolphus. "None of us for a moment ever wanted to engage in the telling of Mary’s life and legacy without the point of view being from a lens of a woman who lived with diabetes most of her life."

Today, Levine is determined to keep his late wife’s legacy alive. He’s actively involved with the Mary Tyler Moore Vision Initiative, a research program with a mission to "preserve and restore vision in people with diabetes" so that they "can live joyful and independent lives free from the fear and suffering of vision loss."


Valerie Harper leaning in to Mary Tyler Moore wearing a floral dress

Valerie Harper was a bridesmaid for Mary Tyler Moore's third wedding. The "Rhoda" star died in 2019 at age 80. (CBS via Getty Images)

"She genuinely did not want the next generation to suffer in the way that she did," said Levine.

Relieving his memories during filmmaking was bittersweet.

"I want the world to remember Mary as someone always willing to offer a smile," he said. "She accomplished great things and gave people joy, and she did it with grace. But even though she offered a smile so willingly… she fought for the things that she believed in."

Dr. Robert Levine weairng a black blzer and a white shirt next to Mary Tyler Moore in a plaid dress

Dr. Robert Levine is determined to keep his late wife's legacy alive. (Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

"Perhaps the best way to express what I want people to remember about Mary is what I had etched in her memorial stone," he shared. "There’s a beautiful angel that overlooks Mary’s memorial site. It says, ‘Love is all around’ on the pedestal. And at the top of the stone, it says, ‘After all,’ because we all wind up in the same place. But the thing that I want people to remember about Mary is her spirit of beacon, her smile eternal. She made us better. She made people better. She made me better. That’s how I want the world to remember her."

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