Actor Cynthia Harris dies; played mother on ‘Mad About You’

Cynthia Harris and Paul Reiser in a still from the sitcom "Mad About You."
Cynthia Harris as Sylvia Buchman and Paul Reiser as Paul Buchman in “Mad About You.”

Cynthia Harris, the versatile and prolific actress best known to prime-time TV audiences as Paul Reiser’s mother on “Mad About You,” has died at her home in New York City.

Harris died Sunday at 87, her family announced in an obituary.

She debuted to acclaim as Sylvia Buchman, the comically overbearing mother of the character Paul Buchman, played by Reiser, in 1993. She appeared in 71 episodes between 1993 and 1999 and then in two episodes in the 2019 reboot.

In 1993 she helped found the Actors Company Theater, serving as artistic director for more than 20 years and acting in numerous productions for the off-Broadway theater.


Onstage she stepped into the role of Sarah in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” and in “Bad Habits” in 1974. She also appeared in “Lost in Yonkers,” “The Tribute Artist” and “Bedroom Farce,” among many other shows.

She also appeared in numerous television shows, including “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “L.A. Law” and “Law & Order.” For years she appeared as “Mrs. B.” in television commercials, sniffing out bargains for the now-defunct department store chain Bradlees, beginning in the 1970s.

Born in Manhattan in 1934 to a businessman and a homemaker, Harris earned a degree in theater and literature from Smith College in Massachusetts and made her Broadway debut in 1963.

Harris is survived by her partner, Nathan Silverstein, and a brother, Matthew Harris.