Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Award winner Kathryn Joosten, best known as the nosiest neighbor on "Desperate Housewives" and Mrs. Landingham, President Bartlet's (Martin Sheen) secretary on "The West Wing," succumbed to lung cancer on June 2. She was 72.
From Guest to Emmy Winner
Joosten won two Emmys for her performance as Mrs. McCluskey, but "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry revealed she was not meant to be such an important part of the show. He explained to E! News, "The character of Mrs. McCluskey was created for a single episode. We then cast Kathryn Joosten, and she infused the part with so much feisty wit and curmudgeonly bravado, we knew we had to move her onto Wisteria Lane for the run of the series. I will forever miss her, as a co-worker and as a friend."
Old Lady God
Joosten's recurring role as one of the Earthly incarnations of God on "Joan of Arcadia" perfectly encapsulated her unique talent. As with other roles, she exuded a reassuring, sometimes harsh sense of wisdom. It is easy to cite her age as the reason she could play such roles as "Old Lady God" and so convincingly offer sage insights, but it was a true talent. Her realistic, approachable persona tinged with an almost world-weary sense of pragmatism made her relatable. Her comedic timing and sharp delivery helped her avoid the stereotypical role of a know-it-all elder and made viewers love her.
Joosten discovered her acting career later in life at age 42. She performed on stage, in commercials and films. Her extensive TV career included appearances on nearly three decades of primetime hits such as "Family Matters," "ER," and "The Mentalist." Even during brief roles, she was a scene-stealer who managed to leave a searing impression. Her public persona demonstrated toughness reminiscent of her signature characters, but Joosten was also very funny. In interviews, she seemed genuinely happy and amazingly humble.
A lung cancer survivor, Joosten supported the National Lung Cancer Partnership and advocated for lung cancer awareness and research. Her battle with the disease sometimes influenced her performances. She appeared in an episode of "The Bold and the Beautiful," which featured real-life lung cancer patients and survivors. Her roles on "Desperate Housewives," "Grey's Anatomy," and "My Name is Earl" dealt with smoking and cancer. Her portrayal of Donny's mom on "My Name is Earl" was surprisingly heartfelt as Earl helped her quit chain smoking in an effort to enjoy a longer life with her son.
A Wonderful Farewell
In the "Desperate Housewives" series finale, Mrs. McCluskey made a final meddlesome gesture to save her neighbors and experienced a peaceful, dignified death in her home while listening to "Wonderful, Wonderful" on a record player. That powerful TV send off makes it easier to accept Joosten's passing, but is also a lasting reminder of her immense talent and the unique gift she shared with audiences.
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