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Actress Tanya Roberts Dies At 65, After Premature Announcements


Actor Tanya Roberts at the 2006 TV Land awards in Santa Monica, Calif. She died Monday evening.
Chris Delmas, AFP via Getty Images

Actor Tanya Roberts at the 2006 TV Land awards in Santa Monica, Calif. She died Monday evening.

Actor Tanya Roberts died Monday evening in Los Angeles following a collapse on Christmas Eve.

Roberts was best known for her roles as one of TV's Charlie's Angels in the 1970s, as a so-called "Bond Girl" in the James Bond film A View To Kill (1985) and as the mother of one of the teens on That '70s Show, beginning in 1998. She had largely fallen out of the public eye in recent years. She was reported dead on Sunday, reported alive on Monday, then reported dead again as of Monday evening.

The odd series of events surrounding her death began on Sunday when her publicist, Mike Pingel, told some media outlets that Roberts had collapsed unexpectedly on Dec. 24 after walking her dogs near her Hollywood Hills home. She was taken to Cedars-Sinai hospital and put on a ventilator. COVID was not involved.

Pingel said he'd gotten the information from Roberts' 18-year domestic partner, Lance O'Brien. The website TMZ reported that on Sunday, O'Brien "went to the hospital, and as he sat in her room she opened her eyes and tried to grab on to him, but her eyes closed and she 'faded.' He said he was devastated and walked out of the room and then the hospital and never spoke with medical staff."

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Friends, including actor Topher Grace, mourned her on Twitter. Still, lots of questions were raised on social media: Why didn't O'Brien speak with a doctor before leaving the hospital? But grief does strange things to people, so no judgment here.

Then, Monday morning, O'Brien said he got a call from the hospital telling him Roberts was alive. Another announcement went out saying she was alive. Many news outlets backtracked.

But Roberts was in grave condition from a urinary tract infection which spread to her kidney, gallbladder, liver and then blood stream. Publicist Mike Pingel sent a statement to NPR saying O'Brien "received a phone call from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center last night at their home confirming her passing."

When reporting on a death we always seek confirmation directly from a reliable source. Her partner and her publicist are sources we'd have considered reliable. We were spared wrongly reporting only because we did not cover the story originally.

So, why cover her death now? Because the circumstances are interesting and it may shed some light on how we cover celebrity death.

It's tempting to recall that old story about Mark Twain being informed of his death in a New York newspaper. "The report of my death was an exaggeration," he responded. (That line in itself is often misquoted, so you can see how misstatements get repeated, then taken as truth).

But it's probably more accurate in 2021 to say it's better to be factual than first.

Ted Robbins is a Supervising Editor on NPR's Arts and Culture Desk.

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