Although she'd had a long, busy career before she started working on The Simpsons in 1990—including, most notably, a high-profile role as the secretary on The Bob Newhart Show in the '70s—Marcia Wallace will likely be forever known as Edna Krabappel, the weary, cynical, but good-hearted teacher and foil of Bart Simpson.
The Emmy-winning actor, comedian, and writer died last night of complications from breast cancer, according to Deadline, a week shy of her 71st birthday. It was a disease she had fought for nearly 30 years, having first been diagnosed with it in 1985.
As she detailed in her frank 2004 memoir, Don't Look Back, We're Not Going That Way!, Wallace faced numerous struggles before finding success in show business: Growing up in Iowa, she endured physical abuse, with alcoholic father and a mother that "really didn't like me all that much," she once said in an interview. She also struggled with her weight and self-esteem, so, like so many people, she used humor to cope.
After attending Parsons College in Iowa, Wallace moved to New York to act and began working in improv, which eventually landed her a recurring gig on the popular Merv Griffin Show. That, in turn, led to The Bob Newhart Show and the role of receptionist Carol Kester, which was written with her in mind, according to Variety.
Once The Bob Newhart Show ended in 1978 after six seasons, Wallace spent the '80s doing a variety of guest-star appearances on myriad TV shows, from The Love Boat to ALF to Night Court and Small Wonder. That eventually led to The Simpsons, where her voice brought to life one of the show's many iconic characters. As Edna Krabappel, she was a lovelorn, put-upon woman who struggled to persevere in her thankless job. Over the nearly 200 episodes in which she appeared, Wallace helped make Krabappel a three-dimensional character, someone whose weary cynicism only partially masked genuine empathy and pride in what she did. In recent seasons, she had finally settled her love life by marrying Ned Flanders, helping coax the man Homer Simpson once referred to as "Churchie LaFemme" into a more modern, open-minded way of thinking.
Wallace's death is a serious blow to the series; even though Krabappel didn't appear in every episode, she played a significant role in the world of The Simpsons. She will be deeply missed by fans of the show, but Wallace's long, distinguished filmography means she'll never be far away.