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Conchata Ferrell, the insult-slinging Berta of ‘Two and a Half Men,’ dies at 77

Actress Conchata Ferrell arrives at the TV Land Awards on April 19, 2009 in Universal City.
(Matt Sayles / Associated Press)

Veteran character actress Conchata Ferrell, who played Berta in “Two and a Half Men” and appeared in dozens of other TV series and films including “Erin Brokovich,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “Mystic Pizza,” has died. She was 77.

The Emmy-nominated actress died Monday “peacefully surrounded by family” at Sherman Oaks Hospital after complications from cardiac arrest, her publicist, Cynthia Snyder, said Tuesday in a statement to The Times.

Though Ferrell’s credits were many, she was perhaps best known for her 12-season run on the CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” playing the brusque, insult-slinging, tough-loving housekeeper Berta.

As her vested character put it, she spent her time “toiling away in poverty-stricken anonymity” for the wealthy Harper family, readily hurling zingers at the series’ philandering leads, Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) and later Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher, with whom she reunited on the Netflix series “The Ranch”).

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The role earned the Charleston, W.V., native two Emmy nominations for supporting actress in 2005 and 2007. She scored another nomination in 1992 for her role as entertainment lawyer Susan Bloom in Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher’s legal drama “L.A. Law,” a character whom she described in The Times as “a combination of the super agent and the super lawyer.”

“She was every bit of the spirit you saw in ‘Two and a Half Men’ and much more,” her longtime manager, Dan Spilo, said Tuesday. “She was truly a powerhouse of a person.”

Jon Cryer, who won two Primetime Emmys for his role as straight-laced Alan Harper in “Men,” paid tribute to his longtime costar in a series of tweets Tuesday.

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“She was a beautiful human,” he wrote. “Berta’s gruff exterior was an invention of the writers. Chatty’s warmth and vulnerability were her real strengths. I’m crying for the woman I’ll miss, and the joy she brought so many.”

Cryer recalled the first day he met her on the set and how he gushed over her — “and she simply refused to believe it.”

“I had to recount one of my favorite bits of hers from a cancelled mid 70’s sitcom called ‘Hot L Baltimore’ before she finally got that I was serious,” he wrote. “I’m glad that I absolutely knew how fortunate I was to share a stage with her. I treasured every moment and will continue to until we meet again. I have a feeling she’ll call me ‘Zippy.’”

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Sheen, who was infamously fired from the series after feuding with Warner Bros. and co-creator Chuck Lorre, remembered Ferrell as “an absolute sweetheart / a consummate pro / a genuine friend” and described her death as “a shocking and painful loss.”

“Berta, your housekeeping was a tad suspect, your ‘people’ keeping was perfect,” he tweeted.

Ferrell attended West Virginia University and later graduated from Marshall University with a degree in history education. She also taught acting for television at UCLA.

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Her Hollywood career began in the 1970s, when she appeared in Norman Lear’s “Maude” starring Bea Arthur. But it was her acclaimed role in Lanford Wilson’s off-Broadway play “Hot l Baltimore” that landed her a part in Lear’s short-lived TV adaptation of the work for ABC, among a slew of other one-off TV credits.

Ferrell was an original member of the Circle Repertory Theatre and received a Drama Desk Award, a Theatre World Award and an Obie Award for best actress in 1974 for her role as Gertrude Blum in Edward J. Moore’s “The Sea Horse.”

“Conchata Ferrell was exactly the kind of artist for whom we created our theater — a deeply honest performer who would inspire our playwrights to create roles for her. She was our first home-grown star,” Circle Repertory Theatre’s founding artistic director, Marshall W. Mason, said in a statement to The Times.

Her later theater work included roles in a New York production of Tennessee Williams’ “Battle of the Angels” and the Ahmanson’s 1986 production of “Picnic,” reprising her role as Mrs. Potts in Showtime’s subsequent adaptation of the play.

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She also starred in Sidney Lumet’s Oscar-winning news drama “Network” and played pizza parlor owner Leona in the 1988 romance “Mystic Pizza.”

Her other credits include stints on “Teen Angel,” “A Peaceable Kingdom,” “Hearts Afire,” “Townies” and “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place,” and voice work in the animated film “Frankenweenie” and series “The Wild Thornberrys.”

Ferrell is survived by her husband, Arnie Anderson, and her daughter, Samantha, and stepdaughters Lisa and Kaitlyn.


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