Written by Anita Gates
Tanya Roberts, the breathy-voiced actress who found fame in the 1980s as a detective on Charlie’s Angels and as a brave earth scientist in the James Bond film A View to a Kill, has died in Los Angeles. She was 65.
Her death, at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, was confirmed by her companion, Lance O’Brien, on Tuesday morning. He said she had died overnight. Her publicist, who was given erroneous information, had announced her death to the news media early Monday, and some news organizations published obituaries about her prematurely.
The publicist, Mike Pingel, said Roberts had collapsed on December 24 after walking her dogs near her Hollywood Hills home and was put on a ventilator at the hospital. He did not give the cause of death, but said it was not related to COVID-19. He said she had not been noticeably ill before she collapsed.
Tanya Roberts’ big acting break came in her mid-20s when she was cast in the fifth and last season of Charlie’s Angels, ABC’s drama series that, trading on its stars’ sex appeal, followed the exploits of three attractive former police officers who often fought crime wearing short shorts, low-cut blouses and even bikinis.
The show was an immediate hit in 1976, but Farrah Fawcett, its breakout star, left after one season, replaced by Cheryl Ladd. Kate Jackson quit in 1979, and her replacement, Shelley Hack, was gone after just one season. Roberts replaced Hack. Jaclyn Smith appeared throughout the series run.
There were high hopes for Roberts when she joined the cast. Her character, Julie, had some of Jackson’s character’s street-wise attitude; Julie was known to knock a handgun right out of a tough criminal’s hand. Her part couldn’t save the show’s plummeting ratings, but it did lead to an active decade for her in Hollywood.
Most notably, she was a “Bond girl,” playing a geologist threatened by a microchip-monopolist madman (Christopher Walken) in A View to a Kill (1985), Roger Moore’s last appearance as Agent 007.
Roberts also appeared in The Beastmaster (1982), a fantasy film. And she played the title role in Sheena (1984), a highly publicized adventure film inspired by a queen-of-the-jungle comic book character. Sheena, a female Tarzan type, wore skimpy fur outfits with decolletage, rode a zebra, talked to animals and shape-shifted. The film flopped at the box office, and Roberts began fading from public view.
She returned to the spotlight in 1998 on the sitcom That ’70s Show as the glamorous, youngish Midwestern mom of a teenage girl (Laura Prepon). In that role she was beautiful, slim and sexy — and delightfully dimwitted. The comic mystery, year after year, was how her short, dumpy husband, played by Don Stark with frighteningly overgrown sideburns, had ever won her heart. Roberts appeared on the show for three seasons and later made guest visits.
She was born Victoria Leigh Blum in New York City on Oct. 15, 1955, the second of two daughters of Oscar Maximilian Blum, a fountain pen salesman, and Dorothy Leigh (Smith) Blum. According to some sources, Tanya was her nickname. She spent her childhood in the Bronx and lived briefly in Canada after her parents’ divorce. She began her career by running away from home to become a model when she was 15.
Back in New York, she studied acting, appeared in some off-Broadway productions and worked as a model and a dance instructor to make ends meet. Her modeling career included work for Clairol and Ultra-Brite toothpaste. She made her screen debut in the horror thriller The Last Victim (1976), about a serial rapist-murderer.
After Charlie’s Angels, Tanya Roberts acted in both television and films. Her roles included the private eye Mike Hammer’s secretary in the television movie Murder Me, Murder You (1983), a detective working undercover at a sex clinic in Sins of Desire (1993) and a talk-radio host on the erotic anthology series Hot Line (1994-96). Her final screen appearance was on the Showtime series Barbershop in 2005.
Even in her heyday, Roberts appeared not to enjoy being interviewed. Chatting with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show in 1981, she laughed nervously, gave short answers and flirted with Michael Landon, her fellow guest. At one point, Carson mentioned a cover article about her in People magazine, prompting Ed McMahon, the host’s sidekick, to suggest, “Maybe there’s something in the magazine that’d be interesting.”
Tanya Roberts was a teenager when she married in 1971, but the union was quickly annulled at the insistence of her new mother-in-law. In 1974, she met Barry Roberts, a psychology student, while both were standing in line at a movie theater. They married that year. Barry Roberts became a screenwriter and died in 2006 at 60.
Her survivors include her companion, Lance O’Brien, and a sister, Barbara Chase, who was Timothy Leary’s fourth wife.
Tanya Roberts was always a New Yorker at heart, she contended, and not just because she hated driving.
“L.A. drives you crazy,” she said in the 1981 People magazine article. “I’m used to weather and walking and people who say what they mean.”
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