Deborah Raffin Dies at 59

7th Heaven Actress Deborah Raffin Dies at 59
Deborah Raffin, in 2010
Amy Graves/WireImage

11/26/2012 AT 03:05 PM EST

Deborah Raffin, who had brief but successful careers both as an actress – 7th Heaven, among other shows – and a book publisher, died of leukemia last Wednesday, a family member told the Los Angeles Times.

Raffin was 59 and reportedly had battled the disease for about a year.

Starting out, the blonde Californian was often compared to the young Grace Kelly, PEOPLE noted in a 1979 profile. Her mother, Trudy Marshall, had been a bit player for 20th Century Fox in the '40s, and her father was a wealthy meat broker.

When Raffin was a sophomore at Valley College in Van Nuys, an agent stopped her in an elevator and asked if she'd like to be in movies. Her screen career was launched – though it was a bumpy one.



Through no fault of her own, Raffin made a string of bad movies in the '70s, including 40 Carats and Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough. Nevertheless, she cannily kept her face and figure before the public modeling for fashion magazines.

She met her future husband, manager and, ultimately, business partner, Michael Viner, on a blind date in 1974, and they married four months later. Ten years after that, they founded the L.A.-based Dove Books-on-Tape, which they eventually expanded into a highly successful book publishing and movie and TV production. Among their authors were Amy Tan and Sidney Sheldon.

Before her prolific publishing career – Raffin served as co-executive producer on 1,600 titles and line-produced more than 400 audio books – she also played what remained her meatiest role, as the real-life Brooke Hayward, daughter of legendary Hollywood agent and producer Leland Hayward and troubled screen star Margaret Sullavan. The highly rated CBS TV movie was 1980's Haywire, based on Brooke's best-selling memoir.

Her performance caused Time magazine to declare she was no longer "simply a photogenic starlet so beautiful she was allowed to play little more than photogenic starlet roles."

On the CW's 7th Heaven, she played Aunt Julie for 11 years, from 1996 to 2007.

The Viners' marriage ended in divorce in 2005. (He died of cancer in 2009.) Raffin's survivors, according to the Times, are a brother, sister and a daughter, Taylor Rose Viner.

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