Dr. S. Robert Levine Presents Variety Mary Tyler Moore Visionary Award to Kristen Wiig

In her heart, Mary was a dancer. 

She worshipped Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers, and Cyd Charisse and wished she could       dance like them. 

Mary had a dancer’s discipline, work ethic, drive to perfection, and willingness to take risks — literal leaps of faith — with a clear understanding of what every ballerina knows… that to create something that will move people and bring audiences to their feet, your toes were going to get bloody.

But most of all… it was in dance that Mary found her true joy…. 

Diabetes stole this joy from her…  because it stole her vision

Over time, it became a great challenge for her to walk across a room and avoid obstacles, judge changes in grades, walk down stairs, or be physically active in low light… making a once fiercely independent woman, unable to get around on her own, unable to read, and unable to sustain her autonomy…

As International Chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, now Breakthrough T1D, Mary voiced the fears and hopes of people and families affected by diabetes.  She helped raise awareness of it’s devastating consequences and the promise of research.  

Sadly though, diabetes remains the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults, with tens of millions of people, globally, suffering vision stealing diabetic retinal disease and with every one of the hundreds of millions of people with diabetes being at risk of vision loss and blindness….

Despite her challenges, Mary believed the best way to heal ourselves was to do what we could to help others. 

Her wish was that future generations with diabetes would not have to experience the challenges she had, and she dreamed that one day there would be a world without vision loss and blindness from diabetes. 

The Mary Tyler Moore Vision Initiative was launched to honor Mary’s contributions to diabetes awareness and research – and our mission is straightforward: To accelerate the development of new treatments to prevent and cure diabetic retinal disease.

When Dea Lawrence, the amazing COO of Variety, came to me with the BIG IDEA of partnering with the Mary Tyler Moore Vision Initiative to create an award in Mary’s name to recognize a new generation of entertainment industry leaders, I, of course, said “yes.” But then my thoughts turned quickly to the question, “Who would be worthy?” One thing was sure, though: they had to be “a Mary.” 

So, I wrote down a list of Mary attributes to share with Dea to inform our selection process…  that list included:

Brilliant, Beautiful, Accessible;  

Generous, Kind, Compassionate;

Honest, Brave, Real;

Innovator, Role Model, Risk-taker;

Actor, Comedian, Dancer, Singer, Writer;

Or as James L. Brooks, who with Allan Burns, created the Mary Tyler Moore Show put it only a few nights after Mary’s passing upon his receiving the Producer’s Guild’s Norman Lear Achievement Award:  

“I promise you as a woman, she was everything you sensed. She had dignity, worth, wit, she was intrinsically valiant, she was the woman who was at the center of the work and who never complained. She made grace contagious”

Well, Dea, Michelle, and the Variety team came through big time in selecting Kristen Wiig for the Inaugural Mary Tyler Moore Visionary Award. 

All it took for me to know that Kristen was truly “the one” was watching her evocative dance with Maddie Ziegler for Sia’s performance of “Chandelier” at the 2015 Grammy Awards, and witnessing the perfectionist detail in her brilliant Ann-Margaret impersonation, the joyfulness of Target Lady, the physicality of her Gloria Swanson, Katherine Hepburn, Aunt Sue, and Gilly…and the creative genius of so many more of her other sketch characters.  

But then there was also her “can’t take your eyes off her” performance as Alice Klieg, a lottery winner with borderline personality disorder in Welcome to Me and her multi-layered performance as Annie joined with her honking, laugh-out-loud funny, Oscar nominated writing for Bridesmaids.  

And then, finally, there is this quote from comedy icon and “friend of Mary”, Carol Burnett about her co-star, Kristen’s performance in the Season 1 finale of Palm Royale: “That scene is one of the greatest pieces of acting I have ever seen in my life,… it was a masterclass in acting, with being funny, with being in tears, with losing it.” Reading this quote gave me chills, as it flashed fond memories of Mary’s comedy breakout scene in the “My Blonde Haired Brunette” episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show’s first season.

So Kristen is, indeed, a true Mary – a multi-hyphenate, award winning creator of moments of joy and occasions of reflection that move us and make us better. 

Kristen also shares a creative driver with Mary — what Kristen has called “the need to be a little uncomfortable” or as Mary once put it:

 “Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.”

So let me please share my gratitude to Dea, Michelle, and Variety for making this moment possible, and introduce to you, the recipient of Variety’s Inaugural Mary Tyler Moore Visionary Award – the singularly talented, remarkably funny, truly brave, Kristen Wiig.

-Dr. S. Robert Levine