Bill Macy, Bea Arthur's Husband on 'Maude,' Dies at 97

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'Maude' stars Bill Macy and Bea Arthur in the 1970s.

Norman Lear saw him choking on a chicken bone and brought him to Hollywood. The actor also appeared in 'My Favorite Year' and 'The Late Show.'

Bill Macy, who played the frustrated husband Walter Findlay opposite Bea Arthur on the hit 1970s sitcom Maude, has died. He was 97.

Macy, who also portrayed Sy Benson, the head writer of a 1950s sketch comedy show, in the classic My Favorite Year (1982), died Thursday night in Los Angeles, producer and manager Matt Beckoff told The Hollywood Reporter.

Macy also stood out as the weaselly Charlie Hatter, an old pal of Art Carney's aging detective character, in Robert Benton's The Late Show (1977), and his Stan Fox helped Steve Martin's Navin R. Johnson bring the (ultimately flawed) eyeglass invention the Opti-Grab to market in Carl Reiner's The Jerk (1979).

Maude, a spinoff of All in the Family, debuted in September 1972 and ran for six seasons on CBS until April 1978. Both shows, of course, were created by sitcom legend Norman Lear.

Walter was the fourth husband of the strong-willed feminist played by Arthur and the owner of Findlay's Friendly Appliances in Tuckahoe, N.Y. When he managed to get off a good crack against his wife, Maude frequently would say, "God will get you for that, Walter."

"I'm glad the show isn't called Walter because the pressure would be on me," Macy said in a 1973 interview with the Chicago Tribune. "This way I can stay loose and go out and feed her lines."

In one story arc early in the series, Walter had trouble controlling his drinking. He slapped Maude across her face and then, feeling terrible about it, suffered a nervous breakdown.

Born May 18, 1922 in Revere, Mass., Macy was raised in Brooklyn and attended Samuel J. Tilden High School. He drove a taxi for a decade to make ends meet, and in 1958, he landed a role on Broadway as the understudy to Walter Matthau in Once More, With Feeling, also starring Joseph Cotten.

In a 1998 interview with the Archive of American Television, Lear said that he "first saw Bill Macy choking on a chicken bone in an off-Broadway play…it took seven minutes; it was a tour de force." The producer brought him out to Hollywood, where he got a few lines as a cop on an episode of All in the Family and then the life-changing Maude role.

Macy also appeared on such series as St. Elsewhere, The Facts of Life, NYPD Blue, Seinfeld and My Name Is Earl, and in films including Serial (1980), Movers & Shakers (1985) — that one with Matthau — Analyze This (1999) and Surviving Christmas (2004).

My Favorite Year  was executive produced by Mel Brooks, who based the film on his experiences as a writer on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. Several characters in the movie were modeled after real people, so a case could be made that Macy played a version of head writer Mel Tolkin.

Survivors include his wife since 1975, actress Samantha Harper, a regular on another Lear show, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. They met in the late '60s when both were in the original Broadway production of the zesty Oh! Calcutta!

Rhett Bartlett contributed to this report.