“It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of my beloved mom Jessica,” said her daughter Brooke Bowman in a statement. “A working actor for over six decades, her greatest pleasure was bringing joy to others through her storytelling both on screen and off. While her legacy will live on through her body of work, she will also be remembered by many for her wit, class and overall joie de vivre.”
Walter had a long, prolific career in Hollywood, most recently in comedies like “Arrested Development,” which aired on Fox and later, Netflix, where she earned legions of fans as snarky, snobby matriarch Lucille Bluth. “As far as I’m concerned, we can never push things enough,” Walter told USA TODAY of the boundary-pushing sitcom in 2005. “We try to do it all with class and elegance.”
She voiced another conniving mother, Malory Archer, to the title superhero character in FXX’s animated adult comedy “Archer.”
Her occasional “Arrested” co-star Henry Winkler reacted to her death on Twitter, writing “OH NO …We worked together for years on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT ..It was an honor to watch her comedy explode from the very first row.”
Walter started her career in 1960s appearing in TV guest roles in series such as “Flipper” and “Ben Casey.” But her big breakout part was in the 1971 film “Misty,” as the obsessive fan of Clint Eastwood’s radio DJ, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe. Walter has worked steadily for more than 50 years in TV, film and on Broadway.
She has guest-starred on countless series, from “The Love Boat” to “NCIS” to “Murder She Wrote.” Walter won an Emmy in 1975 as lead actress in a special program for her role as San Francisco’s first female chief of detectives in NBC’s miniseries, “Amy Prentiss.” She was nominated three more times, for ABC’s “The Streets of San Francisco” in 1977; CBS’ “Trapper John, M.D.” in 1980; and for “Arrested” in 2005. She most recently appeared in February, on a Season 5 episode of ABC sitcom “American Housewife.”
Walter’s feature debut was in the 1964 film “Lilith,” with Warren Beatty, Jean Seberg and Gene Hackman, who was also on his first film.
She also snagged a role in John Frankenheimer’s racing epic “Grand Prix,” from 1966, as the glamorous but discontented wife of a Formula One racer who falls for another driver. That same year she appeared in Sidney Lumet’s “The Group,” a female-led ensemble about the graduates of a prestigious university (Walter played the catty Libby), and acted for Lumet again in 1968’s “Bye Bye Braverman.”
Other notable credits include a stint on CW’s “Beverly Hills, 90210” spin-off “90210” and voicing Fran Sinclair in 1990s Jim Henson family comedy, “Dinosaurs.”
In 2018 Walter made headlines when she revealed in an emotional interview that her “Arrested” co-star Jeffrey Tambor verbally harassed her on the set of the comedy.
“I have to let go of being angry at him,” she said during a New York Times group interview with her castmates. “He never crossed the line on our show, with any, you know, sexual whatever. Verbally, yes, he harassed me, but he did apologize.” She added that in “almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set, and it’s hard to deal with, but I’m over it now. I just let it go right here.”
Walter’s husband of 36 years, actor and her frequent artistic collaborator Ron Leibman, died in December 2019 at 82. Her daughter, Bowman, from her first marriage, is an executive at Fox Entertainment.
Contributing: Gary Levin, Associated Press, Bill Keveney