Jessica Walter, the beloved actor whose decade-spanning career never slowed down, has died at age 80. The Emmy winner and four-time nominee passed in her sleep, Deadline reports.
In recent years, Walter has offered side-splittingly sardonic performances in both Arrested Development, in which she played the sharp-tongued Bluth matriarch Lucille, and Archer, in which she voiced the titular spy’s delightfully impossible mother, Malory. But her career encompasses six decades and began on the stage before she transitioned to television and film.
“It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of my beloved mom Jessica,” Walter’s daughter, Brooke Bowman, said in a statement. “A working actor for over six decades, her greatest pleasure was bringing joy to others through her storytelling both on screen and off. While her legacy will live on through her body of work, she will also be remembered by many for her wit, class and overall joie de vivre.”
A New York native, Walter appeared in a number of Broadway productions when she first began performing—and as Deadline notes, she won the Clarence Derwent Award for Most Promising Newcomer in 1963 for her turn as Ada Cooney in Photo Finish.
Walter’s notable film credits include The Group and Grand Prix, the latter of which earned her a Golden Globe nomination for most promising newcomer. In 1972, she earned a best actress nomination for her performance in Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty for Me.
Outside her performances on the stage and big screen, Walter also established herself in the world of television long before the Bluths took Fox by storm. Three years after her best actress nod at the Globes, she also won an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a limited series for her starring turn in the NBC police drama Amy Prentiss. Her other notable television roles include four appearances on Murder, She Wrote (in which she played four separate characters) and Fran Sinclair in the reptilian ABC sitcom Dinosaurs.
But Walter’s more recent TV work, especially Arrested Development, did introduce her to a new audience—a bevy of adoring fans charmed, no doubt, by that unmistakable voice and gift for imbuing her icy characters with a trademark streak of absurdity.
For years, Arrested Development’s future appeared uncertain thanks to its cancellation at Fox and a less-than-beloved revival at Netflix. The show found itself at the center of controversy in 2018, when, in a New York Times interview, Walter responded to Jeffrey Tambor’s apology for an on-set outburst—only to have her male co-stars attempt to downplay his behavior. In “almost 60 years of working,” Walter said, “I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set and it's hard to deal with, but I’m over it now.”
David Cross recently clarified some of the production circumstances that made the show’s on-set environment so intense in recent seasons, and also confirmed the show has officially ended.
A number of celebrities have already responded to news of Walter’s death—including some of her former co-stars.
Patton Oswalt, who has appeared in Archer multiple times to voice the divorce lawyer Alan Shapiro, tweeted, “Oh GODDAMIT. She was such an absolute sweetie. RIP queen.” He also posted a thread about one of her early television appearances—in the 1962 Naked City episode “Hold for Gloria Christmas.”
Archer creator and executive producer Adam Reed released a statement: “The Archer family is heartbroken to lose Jessica Walter, our beloved colleague and friend,” he wrote. “Jessica was a consummate professional, an actor's actor, and the exact opposite of Malory Archer—warm, caring, and kind, with an absolutely cracking sense of humor—and it was both a privilege and a true honor to work with her over these many years. She will be greatly missed, but never forgotten.”
Added Aisha Tyler: “Jessica Walter was a queen in every way: kind, classy, incredibly talented, generous with love & support. And so insanely funny. She was the brilliant center of our @archerfxx universe. Sweet flight to you, dear Jessica. You were so loved, and we were so lucky to know you.”
Alia Shawkat, who played Walter’s granddaughter Maeby Fünke on AD, posted a photo of her on Twitter with a broken heart emoji and the caption “love you Gangie.”
David Cross, who played Walter’s son-in-law and Shawkat’s father, Tobias Fünke, wrote, “I just heard the shitty news about Jessica Walter an absolutely brilliant actress and amazing talent. I consider myself privileged and very lucky to have been able to work with her. Lucille Bluth is one of TV’s greatest characters.”
Tony Hale, meanwhile, posted a selfie with Walter. “She was a force, and her talent and timing were unmatched,” he wrote. “Rest In Peace Mama Bluth.”