Harper returned to sitcoms in the mid-1980s with a self-titled show, "Valerie", which cast her as a mother raising her children. She had been battling cancer for over a decade. She later moved on to television and film.
Born in Suffern, New York, Harper attended Gotham's Young Professionals School in high school and studied ballet. For four seasons, Harper played Mary's best friend on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", before leaving to star in her own spinoff, "Rhoda", which lasted four years. The actress, who died today at 80, is being remembered for her strength and good humor in the face of illness. She started in show business as a dancer/chorus girl on Broadway in 1959 in Li'l Abner, and went on to perform in Broadway shows such as Wildcat and Take Me Along and at Radio City Music Hall.
Though her friendship with the Mary Richards character was a chief appeal of the show, her character was so popular that the network spun off Rhoda, which ran from 1974-78 on CBS. Rhoda may have joked about being frumpy and hating to diet, but she was also fashion forward: She wore hippie-chic outfits with colorful head scarves and hand-crafted jewelry, wide-legged trousers and long vests, but also sleek, contemporary dresses and suits in bold colors and prints. With Dennis Weaver she co-founded L.I.F.E.in 1983, a charity that fed thousands of needy in Los Angeles.
Back in January 2013, Valerie was told by doctors that she only had three months to live after cancer cells spread to the membrane surrounding her brain, but her cancer was near remission eight months later. She later married Tony Cacciotti a decade later and they adopted a daughter together.
After going public with the diagnosis in March 2013, the actress maintained the same loud-mouthed, positive attitude that endeared Rhoda, and Harper herself, to millions of TV fans in order to make the most of whatever time she had left.
While she held on much longer than the doctors thought, Valerie's battles continued in 2019.
In an echo of many women's lives during the 1970s, Rhoda was bored by the life of a housewife when she was first married.