Suzanne Pleshette, the raspy-voiced beauty who was pecked on by Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds before settling down with Bob Newhart in his classic eponymous 1970s sitcom, has died. She was 70.
Pleshette has battled lung cancer for the better part of a decade and underwent chemotherapy in 2006. A family friend, entertainment attorney Robert Finkelstein, told the Associated Press that the actress died as of respiratory failure Saturday evening at her Los Angeles home.
"Although she was quite sick, she was one of those people you thought would go on forever,'' Newhart told the Los Angeles Times. "If anyone could beat cancer, it was Suzy—she was such an indomitable spirit. She was a pro's pro."
After training at Sanford Meisner's Acting school and launching her career on the stage, Pleshette landed a few roles on television before making her big-screen debut opposite Jerry Lewis in the 1958 comedy The Geisha Boy.
With her distinct, husky voice and dark good looks, directors and producers quickly took notice of the starlet and she racked up credits on the tube and silver screen. After appearing in a 1960 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the master of suspense hired her for a prime part in his hit 1963 horror film The Birds.
She also made her Broadway debut in 1961, taking over for Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan opposite Patty Duke as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker.
During the next 10 years, she mostly plied her trade on the tube, appearing in episodes of Dr. Kildare, The Fugitive, The Invaders, Gunsmoke, Columbo and Bonanza. Her film credits included 1964's Youngblood Hawke and Fate Is the Hunter, 1965's A Rage to Live, 1966's Nevada Smith and the 1980 sequel Oh God: Book II with George Burns.
But it was her role as Emily Hartley, Newhart's sarcastic, witty schoolteacher wife on CBS' The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78), that brought Pleshette her greatest fame and earned her two Emmy nominations.
Pleshette reprised her role as Emily for the hilarious surprise ending of the funnyman's followup sitcom, Newhart, in 1990. Newhart wakes up to find himself in his old sitcom prattling on about a dream he had running a cozy Vermont inn. Critics heralded the twist as one of the smartest finales of all time.
"If I'm in Timbuktu, I'll fly home to do that," Pleshette told Newhart upon hearing his idea for the it-was-all-a-bad-dream ending.
In a 1990 interview with CBS This Morning, she recalled with pleasure the thrill of the final taping and the shock on the audience's faces.
"And then they heard this mumble under the covers, and nobody does my octave, you know," she said. "And I think they suspected it might be me, but when that dark hair came up from under the covers, they stood and screamed."
She wistfully added that "to be together again with the old rhythms, looking into each other's eyes, was just wonderful" and experience was "very touching and dear."
As it turned out, Pleshette took away more than a fantastic memory. In 2000, she married one of Newhart's costars, Tom Poston, who played inn handyman George Utley. They remained together until Poston himself died of respiratory failure in April of last year.
Born Jan. 31, 1937 in New York City, Pleshette quickly gravitated toward acting when she attended the New York High School of the Performing Arts. After a brief stint at Syracuse, she signed up for classes with the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre with Meisner.
During the '80s and '90s, Pleshette continued to make regular appearances on the tube, headlining 1984's Maggie Briggs, the 1986 drama series Bridges to Cross and The Boys Are Back, which ran during the 1994-95 season. She scored an Emmy nomination in 1991 for the title role in the TV movie Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean.
More recently, she appeared in Good Morning, Miami from 2002 to 2003 and guest starred on Will & Grace and 8 Simple Rules.
Pleshette was due to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Jan. 31, what would have been her 71st birthday.