Bill Macy, the actor who played Walter Findlay on the classic TV sitcom, Maude, has died. The beloved television star passed away on Thursday night in Los Angeles, Deadline reports. Macy was 97-years-old.
No cause of death was given, but Macy’s producer and manager Matt Beckoff said the elderly actor “was a spitfire right up to the end.”
Macy was best known for playing appliance store owner Walter opposite Bea Arthur on CBS’s All in the Family spinoff Maude, from 1972-78. His character dealt with topics that were controversial at the time. In 1972, just as Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in the U.S., CBS received backlash after Maude and Walter decided she should abort her baby after an unexpected pregnancy at age 47. In another story arc, Walter battled alcoholism and ultimately slapped his wife during a drinking binge.
The Hollywood Reporter notes that in a 1973 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Macy said he was glad the show was named after Arthur’s outspoken character.
“I’m glad the show isn’t called Walter because the pressure would be on me. This way I can stay loose and go out and feed her lines.”
Still, his character was so memorable that strangers would regularly call Macy “Mr. Maude” and would sympathize with him for having such a difficult wife. In real life, Macy was married to actress Samantha Harper (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) since 1975.
In a 1998 interview with the Archive of American Television, Maude creator Norman Lear revealed how he “discovered” Macy after watching him perform in a stage show in New York.
“I first saw Bill Macy choking to death on a chicken bone in an off-Broadway play… I can’t remember the name of the play, but I will never if I live to be a thousand, and I hope to, I will never forget his choking on this chicken bone,” Lear recalled. “It took seven minutes [to cast him]. It was a tour de force.”
In addition to Maude, Macy logged dozens of credits on TV series including St. Elsewhere, The Facts of Life, Seinfeld, and My Name Is Earl. His big-screen roles included The Jerk, My Favorite Year, and Surviving Christmas. His last acting role is listed as a 2010 appearance on the TV series, Hawthorne.
After Bill Macy’s death was announced, fans and famous friends took to social media to pay tribute to him. You can see some of the reaction below.
— Judy Gold ????️???? (@JewdyGold) October 18, 2019
He was funny and crazy and loved a good Kosher herring. RIP Bill Macy pic.twitter.com/ygvfKc4fPW
— Gilbert Gottfried (@RealGilbert) October 18, 2019
— Ali Adler (@AliAdler) October 18, 2019
Macy is survived by his wife of 44 years, Samantha. His TV wife, Bea Arthur, died in 2009.
Antenna TV will honor Macy with a “Remembering Bill Macy ‘Maude’ Marathon” on Saturday, October 19, starting at 1 p.m.