Mary Tyler Moore’s Dead Son: How Moore Found Joy Again After She Heard, ‘It’s Richie, He’s Dead’

Mary Tyler Moore’s dead son, Richard Meeker, was Moore’s only child. Richie was born to a very young Mary, when the budding actress was only 19-years-old. According to AOL, Moore always felt that she had neglected Richard as a child, and she experienced remorse for the rest of her life. Mary spoke of her relationship with her son.

“How predictable that without awareness, I emulated my mother’s behavior towards me.”

But Mary went on to deal with her grief and turn the world on with her smile.

Mary Tyler Moore at the Oscars after the death of her son.
Mary Tyler Moore at the 1981 Oscars, when Moore was nominated for her role in '“Ordinary People.”' (Image by Anonymous/AP Images]

Richard managed to pull his life together and after seeking treatment for drug abuse, he landed a job at CBS, the same network that produced two of his mother’s most famous television shows, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He also finished high school and became a student at the University of Southern California.

At 5 a.m. on October 15, 1980, Moore received the call that is every mother’s worst nightmare. Her estranged second husband, CBS executive Grant Tinker, woke Mary to tell her that her only son was dead. Moore later wrote about the morning she heard the news of her son’s death.

“The phone awakened me. It was Grant. ‘If you’re standing, you should sit down …. It’s Richie. He’s dead.'”

Us Weekly Magazine describes how Moore’s son died. Richard collected guns, and while he was away at the USC, he became careless with one of the guns. He’d taken a particularly sensitive “hair-trigger” Snake Charmer model with him to the university.

Richard’s roommate at the time of the accident, Judy Vasquez, explained what she witnessed, and how she watched Richard die.

“He was loading and unloading the short-barreled gun when it went off. It was awful. He must have pulled the trigger. There was a big bang and he fell on the bed.”

After Richard’s death, there were rumors flying around that he had killed himself. As People reports, it was well known that Moore’s son had battled drug addiction, and that his famous mother “struggled with alcoholism.” However, it was later proved that the Snake Charmer gun was faulty, and Richard’s death was an accident. Mary had to speak to the media to allay the rumors, even though she herself was still grieving her son’s death. In her memoir,

Mary had to speak to the media to allay the rumors, even though she herself was still grieving her son’s death. In her memoir, After All, Moore wrote about making her statement concerning the tragedy.

“Unfortunately, there were terrible rumors that Richie killed himself, but it was an accident. He was a gun collector, was cleaning guns, and one of them went off and shot him in the head.”

Richard’s death wasn’t the first time that Moore grieved the death of a loved one. Only two years before her son died, Mary’s sister, Elizabeth, overdosed after her own struggle with substance abuse.

Mary Tyler Moore's son died tragically, but Mary fought through her grief to continue acting and working to help animals.
Mary Tyler Moore struggled with alcoholism, and suffered the loss of her only son, but remained dedicated to animal rights activism throughout her life. [Image by Keystone/Getty Images]

For Moore, who married her next door neighbor Richard Carleton Meeker when she was still a teenager, her son Richard was born at a time when she herself was just not ready to be a mother. Mary’s own difficult childhood with an alcoholic mother hadn’t prepared her for motherhood or for marriage.

After Mary and her first husband divorced, Mary’s “indifference” towards the breakup allowed her to easily pursue her acting career, but the split was very difficult for Moore’s son. Five-year-old Richard drifted further and further away from his mother as he “began having troubles in school” and turned to his alcoholic maternal grandmother for support.

Mary eventually realized how traumatic the split had been for Richard, but by then it was too late to repair the damage.

“If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have pursued a career while I had a little boy to care for. My heart breaks when I think of the times missed, times with him.”

One of Moore’s most iconic roles came along during the period after her son died. In Ordinary People, Mary played a mother whose son drowned, and whose other son attempted suicide. Moore was nominated for an Oscar for the role that mirrored her own life so closely, and working through the emotions of the character helped her deal with the loss of her son.

Mary took her son’s ashes to California’s Owens River to say her final goodbyes and later wrote about the cathartic anger that rushed through her as she spread the ashes.

“The water was clear and high as I knelt over it. I opened the container and emptied it into the rushing water. What was meant to be a prayer became an outraged demand. ‘You take care of him,’ I screamed at the sky.”

Mary Tyler Moore turned the world on with a smile, but her outer joyfulness came at a high price. R.I.P. Mary.

[Featured Image Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]