January 25, 2017 4:16 PM EST

Mary Tyler Moore, the actress, activist and producer best known for her pioneering TV sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died Wednesday at 80. According to her publicist, Moore, who had been ailing for several years, died in the company of friends and her husband of 33 years, Dr. S. Robert Levine.

Moore began her career with aspirations to be a dancer. In her first television gig, she played a dancing elf named Happy Hotpoint in a series of appliance commercials, and in her first major role, as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, she played a former dancer. But it was as Mary Richards, a Minneapolis news producer on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, that Moore left her greatest mark on American culture.

As the first never-married career woman on TV, Moore paved the way for shows, like 30 Rock and Girls, that put young women’s complicated lives front and center. In its run from 1970 to 1977—with women fighting in greater numbers for equal rights offscreen—the show was unprecedented in its treatment of subjects like the Pill and workplace relationships.

Moore would go on to a career onstage (winning a Tony in 1980 for Whose Life Is It Anyway?) and on film (earning an Oscar nomination for 1980’s Ordinary People) and as a passionate advocate for people, like herself, who suffered from type 1 diabetes. But she will be forever remembered, in a moment frozen in time, as the wide-eyed, independent news producer who tossed her hat to the sky, ready to take on the world.

Write to Eliza Berman at eliza.berman@time.com.

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