Actress Valerie Harper Sued for $2M For Having Brain Cancer

Valerie Harper Visits
Monica Schipper/Getty ImagesValerie Harper on Fox & Friends, April 17, 2014
Cancer is ugly. Show biz can be, too. And in the high publicity, big money stakes of a national touring production, when things go wrong, they get nasty.

Playwright Matthew Lombardo and the people behind the show Looped have sued actress Valerie Harper for not telling them that she had lung cancer that subsequently spread to her brain, according to the New York Daily News. She had nailed a Tony award nomination for the play's role of legendary screen actress Tallulah Bankhead in 2010 and was to be part of the touring company last year when she got the diagnosis. The action was a counterclaim to one Harper allegedly filed, looking for pay from from the production.

Lombardo and the producers say they lost $500,000 in the process and seek an additional $1.5 million in damages. They claim that Harper, who gained fame in 1970s TV on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, and her husband knew she had lung cancer and "knowingly withheld the truth." Lombardo also claims that he actually wanted a different actress for the touring version but that Harper insisted on playing the part.

According to the playwright, until late 2012, just before the release of her autobiography, he didn't know that Harper had battled lung cancer. At that time the show was well well into rehearsals. Lombardo alleges that Harper showed slurred speech and memory losses. According to the suit, he urged her to seek medical help.

Closer Weekly magazine recently quoted the actress as declaring herself "absolutely cancer-free," but Harper told ABC News the report was incorrect and that she was "cautiously optimistic about my present condition and I have hope for the future."

In January 2013, Harper released a statement after being hospitalized during rehearsals, according to

"It is with deep sadness and regret that I will be unable to honor my commitment to the tour of Looped," Harper said in statement. "This play has been such a gift and it was my hope and intention to play this role again in the upcoming tour. But given my doctor's recent recommendations, I must now put all my energy into getting well and renewing my strength."

When Harper left, the producers went into a panic. They needed an actress who was available to quickly step in and who had enough name recognition to pull in an audience. As reported then, Stefanie Powers, who starred in the 1970s show Hart to Hart, and who knew Harper from guest appearances on Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda, stepped in.

According to the 2013 diagnosis, Harper wasn't expected to live more than a few months. But she did, and apparently was the first to court. The actress reportedly had sued Lombardo and the producers to be paid for the play, even though she had to drop out. Lombardo's suit was a counterclaim, a legal tactic often used to gain a stronger bargaining position in a dispute.

Since then, Harper has managed to keep working, guest starring in two episodes of the Hallmark Channel's Signed, Sealed, Delivered, according to the Inquisitr blog. Earlier this year, she appeared in a two-part interview on Entertainment Tonight, as her Twitter feed mentioned.

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