Jessica Walter, Emmy-winning star of 'Arrested Development,' dies at 80

Raechal Shewfelt
·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
·6 min read

Emmy-winning actress Jessica Walter, who captured audiences with her portrayal of family matriarch Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development and in scores of other parts, died Wednesday at the age of 80.

Her daughter Brooke Bowman, senior vice president of drama programming at Fox Entertainment, said in a statement to Deadline, "It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of my beloved mom Jessica. 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."

The family asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Walter began her career on the stage in New York City. In the '60s, she guest-starred in TV series such as The Fugitive and Ben Casey. She later racked up credits on projects including the original Wonder Woman TV series; the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie Play Misty for Me, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe; the 1970s show Love, American Style; ABC's Dinosaurs, where she provided the voice of mother Fran, in the '90s; and the movie Slums of Beverly Hills in 1998. She's voiced Malory Archer in the animated show Archer since it debuted in 2009.

Jessica Walter co-stars in
Jessica Walter co-stars in Play Misty for Me. (Photo: FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)

Over the years, she won a 1975 Emmy for lead actress in Amy Prentiss, in which she played the title character, and was nominated three more times: in 1977, for Streets of San Francisco and three years later for the medical drama Trapper John, M.D. Her last Emmy nod came in 2005 for playing Bluth, the obscenely (and hilariously) selfish mother of a dysfunctional family.

Walter first took on the role during the show's initial run, from 2003 to 2006. She returned to it as the show was revived for two more seasons, which aired in 2013 and 2018. She told the New York Times in May 2018 that, after playing the character for so long, Lucille was "in her DNA."

"Fifteen years ago, writers weren't writing juicy Lucille Bluth roles," Walter said. "It was very hard for a woman of a certain age, which was 62, to get a wonderful role like this. And it really put me back sort of on the shorter list. It really, for a lot of us, upped our careers."

She vowed to continue playing Bluth as long as she had the chance.

"It has so much meaning for me," Walter explained. "I'll play this until I die, with my wheelchair and my cane, if they ask me."

Her cast mates from Arrested Development and Archer were among those remembering her fondly.

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Archer's network, FX, released a statement: "We are utterly heartbroken to learn of the passing of Jessica Walter. She was a comedic genius and a brilliant actor who personified wit, grace and elegance. Jessica's 'Malory Archer' served as the bedrock character for the series and we were always honored to have her as member of our FX family. Words cannot describe the monumental loss we and the Archer producers and cast feel. We extend our love, appreciation and condolences to Jessica's family."

Adam Reed, the creator and executive producer of Archer, said, "The Archer family is heartbroken to lose Jessica Walter, our beloved colleague and friend. 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."

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