Dame Angela Lansbury, the three-time Oscar nominated actress, Honorary Oscar winner and TV's favorite amateur sleuth, died peacefully in her sleep on Tuesday, her children announced in a statement. She was 96.
"In addition to her three children, Anthony, Deirdre and David, she is survived by three grandchildren, Peter, Katherine and Ian, plus five great grandchildren and her brother, producer Edgar Lansbury," the statement reads. "She was proceeded in death by her husband of 53 years, Peter Shaw. A private family ceremony will be held at a date to be determined."
Lansbury was born on October 16, 1925 in Regent's Park, Central London, the daughter of an Irish actress and English politician. She wanted to be a performer from an early age, and studied at the Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art in Kensington. Just before the Blitz, Lansbury's mother relocated the family to New York, where Lansbury continued studying at the Feagin School of Drama and Radio.
In 1942, she moved to Hollywood and signed to MGM, making her screen debut in director George Cukor's 1944 thriller, Gaslight, alongside Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. Lansbury played their conniving Cockney housemaid, Nancy. For this, her very first film role, she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She was just 19.
Gaslight earned seven Oscar nominations in total, including Best Picture. Bergman won Best Actress for the film, which also took home Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White.
The following year, Lansbury earned her second Best Supporting Actress nomination for playing a heartbroken lounge singer 1945's The Picture of Dorian Gray.
"I'm willing to let fate play its part in my life," Lansbury said at only 20 years old. "The essential thing is to prepare yourself for the opportunities that come to you."
Her third Oscar nomination came in 1963 as the manipulative mother to Laurence Harvey's Raymond Shaw in the Cold War classic, The Manchurian Candidate.
The '60s also saw Lansbury propelled intro stage superstardom in the musical, Mame, for which she won her first Tony Award in 1966. She would win a total of five Tonys, winning for Dear World in 1969, Gypsy in 1975, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in 1979, and Blithe Spirit in 2009. In June of this year, she received the Lifetime Achievement Tony Award.
Still, Lansbury is perhaps best known as Jessica Fletcher, the mystery novelist and amateur detective that she portrayed on CBS' Murder, She Wrote starting in 1984. For 12 seasons, Jessica Fletcher solved murder cases in her coastal Maine town, with the series becoming one of the most popular of the '80s and '90s, and earning Lansbury 12 Emmy nominations, one for each season.
"What appealed to me about Jessica Fletcher," she once said, "is that I could do what I do best and have little chance to play — a sincere, down-to-earth woman. Mostly, I’ve played very spectacular b****es. Jessica has extreme sincerity, compassion, extraordinary intuition. I’m not like her. My imagination runs riot. I’m not a pragmatist. Jessica is."
Lansbury's career would span eight decades, including roles in 1971's Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1978's Death on the Nile, and 1991's Beauty in the Beauty, for which she lent her voice to Mrs. Potts and, of course, sang the titular Oscar-winning Best Original Song. In recent years, she made an appearance as a kindly balloon vendor in 2018's Mary Poppins Returns.
In 2014, Lansbury was awarded an Honorary Oscar for creating some of cinema's most memorable characters and inspiring generations of actors. During the ceremony, she was honored by film historian Robert Osborne and actors Emma Thompson and Geoffrey Rush, the latter of whom called her "the living definition of range."
"During the long course of my career in film and television and theater, I have known and worked with the very best of their time: Ingrid Bergman, that beautiful, lovely woman. Bette Davis, crazy, wonderful dame," Lansbury said onstage. "And people like Orson Welles, and Laurence Olivier, and Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman and Spencer Tracy, James Earl Jones... But how would I have even begun my career in Gaslight without the belief of the great directors of that time, in that case, of course, George Cukor. Or [Albert Lewin] in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Or been given the incredible role of Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate by the great John Frankenheimer. I just couldn't top that role, so I took off for Broadway and musical comedy by way of Stephen Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle and Jerry Herman's Mame."
"You can't imagine how happy and proud indeed I feel, really undeserving of this gorgeous golden chap. And I want to thank the Governors' Honorary Oscar from the Academy tonight, and to be here in the company of my beloved family and friends instead of sitting, shivering with hope and then disappointment in Grauman's Chinese Theatre in the 1940s and '60s," she said with a chuckle. "Let me tell ya, it doesn't get much better than that."
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