For nine years on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Doris Roberts, as Raymond’s meddling mother Marie, dispensed sage advice or withering put-downs, usually over Italian food.
Faced with the fact that a daughter-in-law had outdone her braciole with a new recipe, she said: “Real cooks don’t need recipes.”
Faced with the fact that her son was blaming his daughter-in-law’s moodiness on PMS, she slapped him: “I can’t let you go on with your father’s cycle of imbecility!” she said.
Asked by a daughter-in-law how hate could have any place in a marriage, she said: “You make room.”
Roberts died Monday of “natural causes,” her family told the Los Angeles Times. (Numerous outlets reported she was 90; in 2001, the actress said she was 71, which would have made her younger, and older news stories reflect a similar age discrepancy.) Though her career on the stage and screen lasted more than six decades, she will forever be remembered as the woman who gave Ray Romano a hard time to the delight of millions.
“Doris Roberts had an energy and a spirit that amazed me,” Romano said in a statement. “She never stopped. Whether working professionally or with her many charities, or just nurturing and mentoring a young, green comic trying to make it as an actor, she did it all with such a grand love for life and people, and I will miss her dearly.”
Roberts was born Doris May Green in St. Louis, as Page Six noted. Her father left her family when she was 10; her mother moved to the Bronx to raise her daughter among family and, eventually, run a company that typed scripts for Broadway plays. Roberts took her stepfather’s last name.
“I think people who triumph over a tragic childhood survive because they found one adult who believed in them,” she wrote in a 2003 memoir. “... It seemed as though my arrival on Earth was an imposition to a bunch of people who had other things they’d rather be doing than tending to a child.”
A love of acting came early.
“When I was 5 years old, I was in kindergarten, I had one little line in the play and it was, ‘I am Patrick Potato. This is my cousin, Mrs. Tomato,’ and I heard laughter and that bug bit me then,” she said in 2003. “And I’ve wanted to be an actor ever since.”
Though Roberts studied journalism at New York University, her art called. From the 1950s through the 1970s, she built up her résumé steadily on Broadway and television, and in film.
“I did 20 years on Broadway before I ever went out to California,” she said. “Lily Tomlin saw me in a play by Terrence McNally called ‘Bad Habits’ ... And she brought me out to California to do the ‘Lilly Tomlin Hour.’ And we won all the Emmys, but we didn’t get picked up. Hello, show business, that’s what it’s about.”
But as Roberts’ career steadily gained momentum, she weathered a starter marriage, which broke up in 1962 after the birth of her son.
“My husband wouldn’t grow up and take on responsibilities,” she said in 2014. “This is a terrible statement to make but I’m going to make it. None of the men in my life ever wanted me to be successful. I think they thought I’d leave them.”
Roberts was not single long, marrying author William Goyen in 1963. Though they remained together until his death in 1983, she faced further tragedy when her son was nearly paralyzed in a skiing accident.
“My son’s accident changed me,” she said in 1979. “I had been the Four M’s – mother, manager, manipulator and mouth. I looked at my life. Now I pray every day and I take life as it comes. I got rid of all my rage and guilt.”
The same year her second husband died, Roberts won her first Emmy for her turn on “St. Elsewhere” as a homeless woman. But “Remington Steele,” on which she played secretary Mildred Krebs opposite Pierce Brosnan, made her a breakout star as AARP eligibility approached.
“The part originally was to be for a woman 10 years younger,” she told The Washington Post in 1985. “I heard about it and asked to see it. I had my agent call and ask if I could read for it ... (and) knocked them out of their socks.”
“Everybody Loves Raymond” came calling about a decade later. Roberts beat out more than 100 actresses for the part of Marie, and everything about “Everybody” seemed to slide into place.
“No one on this show is trying to grab the spotlight,” she said in 1999. “No one’s trying to score an individual touchdown. It’s the best ensemble I’ve ever worked with.”
Roberts’ rapport with her cranky onscreen husband and foil, played by Peter Boyle, reinvented Edith and Archie Bunker for the 21st century.
“When Peter Boyle and I met for the first time on the show it was as if we had known each other for 45 years,” she said. “We got more laughs just giving each other dirty looks than anything else. I loved him.”
The chemistry led to popular appeal. While not as weighty as dramas like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” now remembered as the beginning of television’s new golden age, “Everybody Loves Raymond” garnered dozens of Emmy nominations and was among TV’s top 10 for five years. Roberts won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2005. Marie was an institution powerful enough to be an diplomatic issue.
“‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ was shown twice in Iraq,” she said in 2006. “The United States government thought they would like the Iraqi people to see what an American family is like. Why they picked this dysfunctional family, I have no idea. It was shown twice and immediately taken off the air. Because the mother was too strong. I love that.”
Roberts’ role as feisty elder wasn’t confined to the sitcom that made her famous. In 2002, she called Hollywood to account for a lack of opportunity for seniors in a hearing on Capitol Hill.
“You know no one is writing for older people,” she said in 2008, complaining that the industry had “airbrushed (us) out of society, I think” – though she remained as active as ever.
Roberts said she offered something novel on television: authenticity.
“I’m not a bull artist,” she said last year. “I tell it like it is. I’m not some celebrity thinking I’m greater than anybody else. I’m one of the people. And they know that. It’s wonderful when they say to me ‘Thank you for the humor you’ve brought us all these years.’ I am a lucky son of a gun. I get paid for it.”