An Emmy Award-winning actress, she gained early fame in Clint Eastwood’s “Play Misty for Me” and found a new audience in a TV cult hit.
Jessica Walter, whose six-decade acting career included roles ranging from an obsessed radio fan in Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, “Play Misty for Me,” to the cutting, martini-swilling matriarch of the dysfunctional Bluth family on “Arrested Development,” died at her home in Manhattan on Wednesday. She was 80.
Ms. Walter’s death was confirmed by her publicist, Kelli Jones, who did not specify a cause.
Over a long and wide-ranging career, Ms. Walter found consistent work as a versatile performer with more than 150 credits that included tart-tongued turns in television comedy series and serious roles in dramatic Hollywood movies and New York stage productions. She was often cast as — and relished playing — off-center women capable of silencing men with a withering glance, a piercing remark or the sharp point of a knife.
“Lucky me, because those are the fun roles,” she told The A.V. Club in 2012. “They’re juicy, much better than playing the vanilla ingénues, you know.”
She began her career with minor parts in 1960s television shows like “Flipper” and “The Fugitive” before gaining notice for her role as an American wife who leaves her husband, an English racecar driver, in the 1966 John Frankenheimer movie “Grand Prix.” The film earned Ms. Walter a Golden Globe nomination in the category “new star of the year” in 1967.
Five years later, she was nominated for another Golden Globe for playing Evelyn, a devoted fan with a homicidal streak who becomes obsessed with a disc jockey portrayed by Mr. Eastwood in his 1971 movie “Play Misty for Me.”
In 1975, she won an Emmy for her role as the title character, a detective, in the NBC mystery “Amy Prentiss.” She was also nominated for Emmy Awards for “The Streets of San Francisco” in 1977, “Trapper John, M.D.” in 1980 and “Arrested Development” in 2005.
She appeared in numerous Broadway productions, including “Advise and Consent,” Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” “A Severed Head,” “Night Life” and “Photo Finish.” In 2011, as her star rose, she played the fur-wrapped dowager Evangeline Harcourt in a Roundabout Theater Company revival of “Anything Goes,” which won several Tony Awards.
In recent years, she became a cult figure, beloved for her poisonous put-downs and side-eyed glances as the fabulously wealthy and diabolical mother Lucille Bluth on “Arrested Development.” The zany, self-referential sitcom about a narcissistic family was critically adored when it debuted in 2003, and it introduced Ms. Walter to a new generation. She said she could hardly get on a subway car or a bus without being stopped by a fan.
“You know, you look a lot like that woman that plays Lucille Bluth,” they would tell her.
“I say, ‘You know, I’ve heard that,’” she told The New York Times in 2018. “You know, Lucille is in my DNA now.”
The show was also the source of some anguish for Ms. Walter. In 2018, she revealed that she had been verbally harassed on the set by Jeffrey Tambor, who played her husband and who had been fired that year from the Amazon show “Transparent” amid allegations of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. He denied the allegations of sexual misconduct but admitted that his temper had been an issue, and he conceded that he had blown up at Ms. Walter.
“I have to let go of being angry at him,” Ms. Walter said through tears in the 2018 interview with The Times, as Mr. Tambor sat a few feet away. In “almost 60 years of working,” she said, “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.”
During the interview, another star of the show, Jason Bateman, painted Mr. Tambor’s behavior as typical. His comments drew a blistering reaction online, and Mr. Bateman later apologized, saying he was “incredibly embarrassed and deeply sorry to have done that to Jessica.”
Jessica Walter was born in New York City on Jan. 31, 1941. Her father, David Walter, was a musician and a member of the NBC Symphony Orchestra and the New York City Ballet Orchestra. Her mother, Esther Groisser, was a teacher. Ms. Walter attended the High School of Performing Arts.
She was married twice, first to Ross Bowman, a Broadway stage manager, and in 1983 to the Tony-winning actor Ron Leibman, who died in 2019.
Ms. Walter’s survivors include her daughter, Brooke Bowman, and a grandson.
Ms. Walter and Mr. Leibman performed together in a 1986 production of “Tartuffe” at the Los Angeles Theater Center.
More recently, they had also voiced characters on the FX animated comedy series “Archer,” about an agency full of misfits who undertake James Bond-like missions but spend an inordinate amount of time drinking, having sex with one another and disparaging people. On the show, Ms. Walter voiced Malory, a ruthless mother with more than a passing resemblance to Lucille Bluth.
A full obituary will be published later.