'Ghost and Mrs. Muir' Star Lange Dies

updated 12/21/2003 at 12:00 AM EST

originally published 12/21/2003 12:41PM

Popular and pretty movie and TV actress Hope Lange, best known for the 1968-70 NBC sitcom "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" and as Charles Bronson's brutalized wife in the original 1974 "Deathwish," died Friday night after complications from surgery at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, a family friend, Maria Pucci, tells PEOPLE.com.

Lange, 72, who had successfully undergone an operation for a brain tumor in the early 1990s, had been in failing health, said Pucci, speaking on behalf of Lange's third husband, Charles Hollerith Jr., who survives Lange along with two grown children (from Lange's 1956-61 marriage to "Bus Stop" actor Don Murray) and two grandchildren.

Lange's early movie roles included that of the memorable Selena Cross, the abused girl from the wrong side of the tracks, in the 1957 movie adaptation of the sensational (for its time) novel "Peyton Place." (That earned her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.)

She went on to play a young New York career woman in 1959's "The Best of Everything," starring Joan Crawford, and Glenn Ford's girlfriend in Frank Capra's 1961 "A Pocketful of Miracles," which also starred Bette Davis. Once asked how she would describe Crawford and Davis, Lange replied: "Formidable," then muttered under her breath, "bitches."

But it was with "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," playing a lovely widow who moves into a New England windmill and inherits its handsome sea-captain ghost (Edward Mulhare), that Lange earned her largest audience. Other TV appearances included the groundbreaking 1972 TV movie "That Certain Summer," in which she played a wife who learns that her husband is gay; as Jenny Preston, the wife on the 1971-74 "New Dick Van Dyke Show"; and frequent guest shots on "Murder, She Wrote."

Lange and Hollerith, a producer, married in 1986 and had homes in New York and Beverly Hills. Lange's second husband, from 1963-71, was the distinguished director-producer Alan J. Pakula ("All the President's Men"). Her first and second marriages ended in divorce. In the '50s and '60s Lange was also linked romantically to Frank Sinatra and actor Glenn Ford.

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