updated 11/10/2008 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 11/10/2008 AT 01:00 AM EST
The 82-year-old TV veteran is enjoying every minute of her eyebrow-raising stint on Dancing with the Stars, where she is the oldest competitor. "It's so wonderful. I'm going to be so sorry when it ends," Leachman says.
2 SHE'S A GREAT-GRANDMA
Married to Hollywood exec George Englund from 1953 to 1979, Leachman has five kids, six grandkids and one great-grandchild. Though son Bryan died from an overdose in 1986—"I think about him every day," she says—her family remains rock solid. "Each person couldn't be more wonderful," says Leachman, here in 1999 with daughter Dinah (far left), son Morgan, and grandchildren Skye (back) and Jackson (far right).
3 SHE WAS A BEAUTY QUEEN
The Iowa native was crowned Miss Chicago in 1946 (left), which lead her to compete in the Miss America pageant later that year. She didn't win, but she certainly got plenty of exposure. "It was really fun," she says of the Miss America pageant. "You had to get yourself together—do your own makeup, your own hair and what you were going to wear. My mother was with me the whole time. My father came the last two days [of the competition]." Fame soon followed. "He gave me $60 to go to New York. I got a job the first day I arrived."
4 SHE'S A (HOT) OSCAR WINNER
Leachman took top honors for her supporting role in 1971's The Last Picture Show, which she calls "one of the best pictures ever made." Three years later she graced one of the first PEOPLE covers, where she was called both "red-hot" and a "practicing looney."
5 SHE IS A TV ICON
Leachman—with Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper in 1971—has won nine Emmy awards, more than any other actor. Best known as nosy Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she bonded with the star. "[Mary] is a great supporter and a good friend."
6 SHE'S A COMEDY MUSE
Funnyman Mel Brooks relied on Leachman's comedic skills in three of his films, including 1974's Young Frankenstein with (from left) Marty Feldman, Gene Wilder and Teri Garr.