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January 20, 2008

Suzanne Pleshette, RIP

One of the most talented performers in one of the greatest television series died yesterday. Suzanne Pleshette starred on stage and screen, but will always be best known as Emily, Bob Newhart's smart and wise foil on The Bob Newhart Show:

Suzanne Pleshette, the husky-voiced star best known for her role as Bob Newhart's sardonic wife on television's long-running "The Bob Newhart Show," has died at age 70.

Pleshette, whose career included roles in such films as Hitchcock's "The Birds" and in Broadway plays including "The Miracle Worker," died of respiratory failure Saturday evening at her Los Angeles home, said her attorney Robert Finkelstein, also a family friend.

Pleshette underwent chemotherapy for lung cancer in 2006.

"The Bob Newhart Show, a hit throughout its six-year run, starred comedian Newhart as a Chicago psychiatrist surrounded by eccentric patients. Pleshette provided the voice of reason.

The show followed The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Saturday night in CBS' lineup. Both featured strong, professional women who didn't need a man to define them. In contrast to the relentlessly single Mary Richards, Emily Hartley retained her own identity in a traditional marriage and usually wound up providing the sane center of a show with well-loved and almost archetypal zanies.

Suzanne Pleshette seemed remarkably equipped to portray Emily, and the affection she gained from viewers became obvious years after the show folded. In one of the best television twists ever, Bob Newhart chose to end his second highly-successful series by having Pleshette reprise her role as Emily while Newhart woke up from a dream, explaining away the entire second series. Audiences went wild over the ending and the chance to see Pleshette in the role one more time.

She also played unsympathetic characters with aplomb. The best example would be Leona Helmsley in "The Queen of Mean", a somewhat exploitive TV movie about the notorious hotelier. Despite its overall tabloid feel, Pleshette made it worth watching with a combination of haughtiness and self-pity that completely reversed her persona as Emily Hartley.

Thanks for the laughs and the memories, Ms. Pleshette.


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