While Valerie Harper struggled in her final months of life, her husband, Tony Cacciotti, was persistent in his eternal support of his wife of 32 years.
Harper, best known for her role as Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died on Friday at the age of 80, PEOPLE confirms, after years of battling health issues including leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, lung cancer and brain cancer.
Her family confirmed to ABC7 that she died 10:06 a.m. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Although Harper’s health slowly began to deteriorate in the past several months, Cacciotti, 80, took it upon himself to ensure that his wife was as comfortable as possible in some of the final moments of her life.
Last month, Cacciotti revealed how doctors had advised that his wife be moved to hospice care amid her battle with cancer.
Despite their professional opinion, Cacciotti said he was not willing to listen to them because of how much he adored Harper and vowed to do what he deemed best for his wife.
“I have been told by doctors to put Val in Hospice care and I can’t [because of our 40 years of shared commitment to each other] and I won’t because of the amazing good deeds she has graced us with while she’s been here on earth,” he wrote in a Facebook post on July 23.
While the couple’s friend Deanna started a GoFundMe on Harper’s behalf over a month before her death, the page, which had raised over $66,100 from Harper’s friends, family, and beloved fans, was shut down after members of the entertainment industry stepped forward to help with Harper’s medical expenses.
“She did so much for so many people and once they heard what was happening, they all started coming forward,” Cacciotti told PEOPLE about the support he and Harper have received. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would happen like this. It’s really amazing.”
“I just didn’t want to put her into hospice care and now we’re going to be able to keep her here at home,” Cacciotti added. “She’s hanging in there. We have good days and we have tough days.”
The actress was diagnosed with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis in 2013, just four years after she beat lung cancer in 2009. The condition occurs when cancer cells spread into the fluid-filled membrane surrounding the brain, known as the meninges.
At the time of her diagnosis, doctors told her she only had three months to live, but Harper beat the odds and continued to live well beyond their expectations by six years.
Because of how unbelievably rare her story was, Cacciotti refused to give up on his wife.
“We will continue going forward as long as the powers above allow us, I will do my very best in making Val as comfortable as possible,” Cacciotti wrote in the July Facebook post. “There are two special ANGELS on this planet masquerading as humans who live and work together, that have made it possible to have all of Val’s needs taken care of.”
“For those of you who have been in this position, you will totally understand that ‘it’s hard letting go,’” he continued. “So as long as I’m able and capable, I’ll be where I belong right beside her.”
“Many, many thanks for your outpouring of kindness and support,” Cacciotti finished before signing the note with “Tony”.
Harper married Cacciotti, who who was her former fitness advisor, in 1987, nine years after she finalized her divorce with her first husband, actor Richard Schaal.
When she first met Cacciotti, Harper told PEOPLE in 1980, “I thought, ‘What a beautiful, giving teacher.’ Although I’m a feminist and think it’s terrific to call a man if you’re comfortable, I don’t do it. I don’t set my cap for a guy unless he makes the first move.”
They were together until the end and had a daughter, Christina. In 2000, when their daughter was 16, Harper told PEOPLE that the two “have a great relationship so far” — while her husband pointed out that Harper could be a mom even to strangers.
“She talks to everyone at the supermarket,” said Cacciotti, “listens to their problems and tries to solve them.”
In 2014 — one year after she was told she had as little as three months to live — Harper told PEOPLE she was at peace with her diagnosis.
“I’m ready. I’m ready to go,” she said. “Maybe that’s the secret. That I’m absolutely — I don’t want to, my God, I want to live to be 102. … But I am not banking on anything, really, because we shouldn’t. We don’t know what’s around the corner. I think you just take each day and get the best out of it and do what you can and have fun.”