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Mad About You Mom and TACT Co-Founder Cynthia Harris Dies at 87

Known to television audiences for her role on Mad About You, Harris also had a profound impact on the New York stage.

Cynthia Harris was an actor and theater founder.
(© Joseph Marzullo)

Actor Cynthia Harris, known to television audiences for her portrayal of Sylvia Buchman on the NBC sitcom Mad About You, died on October 3. She was 87.

Harris had a decades-long stage career before her role on Mad About You. In 1992, the same year she began work on that show, she co-founded the Actors Company Theatre (TACT), the off-Broadway troupe that regularly revived neglected gems that offer great roles for actors. "We noticed that in New York theater today, which is highly commercial, there is a whole body of theatrical literature that would never be approached because of the confines of professional Broadway or Off-Broadway productions, which are so expensive," Harris explained the rationale for the company in a 2001 interview with TheaterMania.

Harris served as co-artistic director of the company for many years. It ceased operations in 2018 following the production of Three Wise Guys.

Before the Actors Company, Harris appeared in a number of Broadway productions, including Terrence McNally's Bad Habits (1974) and Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company as a replacement for original cast member Barbara Barrie (1971).

Off-Broadway, she performed at the Cherry Lane Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, and the Delacorte Theatre (playing Mistress Ford in the 1974 Shakespeare in the Park production of The Merry Wives of Windsor). Most recently, she appeared opposite Charles Busch in his 2014 comedy, The Tribute Artist, as a wealthy widow living "like exiled royalty" in a West Village townhouse.

Cynthia Harris's last major off-Broadway production was in Charles Busch's 2014 comedy, The Tribute Artist.
(© James Leynse)

That role may have been a cheeky nod toward one she had played before: In 1979, Harris was nominated for a BAFTA Award for her portrayal of Wallis Simpson in the British miniseries Edward & Mrs. Simpson. More television roles would follow, with Harris making appearances on Three's Company, Knots Landing, Archie Bunker's Place, L.A. Law, Ann Jillian, Murder, She Wrote, Law & Order, and, of course, her celebrated run on as Paul Reiser's overbearing mother on Mad About You, including two episodes of the 2019 reboot.

According to her New York Times obituary, Harris is survived by her partner Nathan Silverstein, her assistant Terrence Mintern, her brother Dr. Matthew Harris and his wife Frances, her sister-in-law Maryjane Harris (her brother David, Maryjane's husband, predeceased her), and many nieces and nephews.