Mary Tyler Moore was a source of laughter for millions of people through her iconic roles on The Dick Van Dyke Show and her Emmy-winning sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But for many struggling with type 1 diabetes and its complications, she was also a symbol of hope.

The actor’s life and career are the subject of a new documentary film Being Mary Tyler Moore, which airs Friday on HBO. Moore—who died on January 25, 2017, at age 80—was no stranger to health struggles, including a battle with alcoholism and a brain tumor that doctors removed in 2011. But it was a diagnosis of T1D that would ignite a passion for education and advocacy within the TV and film star.

Serving as the international chairperson of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Moore used her fame to raise awareness about the disease and debunk the stigmas associated with it. With her help, millions of dollars were raised toward treatments and research for a cure. Here’s a look at just how impactful Moore’s efforts became and how her legacy continues today.

Moore’s Diabetes Diagnosis

Moore was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 33 following a miscarriage—right around the time The Mary Tyler Moore Show was set to make its debut in 1970. She told the National Press Club in 2009 that her blood sugar level was 750, way higher than the normal range between 70 and 110. “They did not know how I was still alive and walking around. But within 48 hours, I was brought back to normal, and then began the hard part—living with the disease,” Moore said.

She revealed in her 2009 memoir Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes the disease permanently affected her stamina, and she suffered significant vision loss from diabetic retinal disease. She experienced heart and kidney problems in her later years, as well.

Moore was initially reticent to talk about her diagnosis, thinking the then-relatively unknown disease might distract her audience and affect her career.

Acceptance and Advocacy

mary tyler moore standing at a podium with a microphone in front of the capitol building
Mary Tyler Moore speaks in front of the U.S. Capitol in 2005 on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
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Once her doctors reinforced the seriousness of her condition, Moore embraced their treatment plan, including regular insulin injections and improved diet and exercise habits.

“I also realized that if I did speak out, I might be able to help others better cope and manage their diabetes,” she told MedLine Plus in 2006. “This was my thinking when I accepted the invitation to be the International Chairman of JDRF in 1984 and be in the vanguard of their efforts to find a cure for diabetes and its complications.”

Moore enjoyed interacting with younger patients through JDRF and helped erase the false idea they were destined to an unfulfilling life and early mortality. She also took part in public service campaigns and encouraged everyone to learn about and better understand the disease.

In 1995, Moore led government relations volunteers, individuals with diabetes, and their family members in a summit with the U.S. Congress to lobby for increased funding for T1D research. She also became a delegate of JDRF’s first Children’s Congress in 1999, encouraging kids to speak up and ask elected leaders for support.

Moore’s Legacy

Moore served as the organization’s international chair until 2017. According to the American Diabetes Association, Congress appropriated $2.46 billion in funding from 1998 through 2017 for type 1 diabetes research and an equal amount to support education programs for Native Americans, who are disproportionately affected by type 2 diabetes. (Type 2 diabetes develops when the body begins to make less insulin over time, whereas type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t make any insulin.)

This funding has enabled scientists to discover more than 50 genes or gene regions associated with type 1 diabetes. As a result, researchers can more easily study how the disease develops and what environmental factors can affect it.

Moore’s advocacy was critical to these efforts. “Indeed, because of Ms. Moore, individuals with type 1 diabetes are able to live better lives with ever-increasing hope—a priceless gift,” writes the ADA. Even more than five years after her death, that hope carries on.

According to a 2017 USA Today article, JDRF includes a copy of Moore’s book in care packages for newly-diagnosed patients. The organization also honored the actor in March 2023 by presenting three awards in her name to Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, as well as Colorado Representative Diana DeGette. The three women were recognized for their work in raising awareness of type 1 diabetes and supporting policies that aid treatment and research.

Also following Moore’s death, her longtime husband S. Robert Levine, whom she married in 1983, started the Mary Tyler Moore Vision Initiative, which seeks to preserve and restore vision in people suffering from diabetes.

How to Watch Being Mary Tyler Moore

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Being Mary Tyler Moore airs at 8 p.m. ET on Friday on HBO and will be available to stream on Max.

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Tyler Piccotti
Associate News Editor,

Tyler Piccotti joined the staff in 2023, and before that had worked almost eight years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor. He is a graduate of Syracuse University, an avid sports fan, a frequent moviegoer, and trivia buff.