She’s not only inspired us to live life to the fullest each day, but Valerie Harper also taught her fans to never give up on true love. Over the years, we’ve come to know and adore the beloved Rhoda actress — who first made her debut on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1970 — for her candid honesty on love, marriage and even her longtime cancer battle.
After breaking out in Hollywood, the 79-year-old beauty decided to get in shape for the 1979 film Chapter Two. At the time, Valerie met Tony Cacciotti, an American actor and producer who was once a former celebrity personal trainer. Lucky for Val, it wasn’t long before Tony, also 79, had the weights in her hands.
After three-hour-per-day, six-day-a-week sessions with Tony went nowhere romantically, Valerie invited him to New York for location filming. Although the two lovebirds kept to separate rooms and a platonic friendship, it wasn’t until their visit to the Museum of Modern Art that things took a turn for the better.
“We both acted about 16 when he told me it’d be nice for us to get closer,” Valerie once gushed to People in 1980 about Tony, who got his start lifting weights as a teen in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania.
While The Longest Yard actor was still working in the fitness industry, he was responsible for the chiseled, six-pack abs and toned tummies of John Travolta, Richard Gere, John Ritter and others. He was so passionate about transforming peoples’ lives that he even wrote his own fitness book, The Cacciotti Method: The Feel-Good-About-Yourself Workout. Tony has also starred in My Mom and the Girl, Hero at Large and a few others.
Prior to falling in love, Tony — who was born on August 12, 1939, in New York City — was a twice-divorced father of four. Valerie was also fresh out of a relationship after calling it quits with her first husband, actor Richard Schaal. Although they didn’t welcome any children together, they did adopt daughter Christina Cacciotti in 1983. Val and Tony were officially married four years later in 1987.
Now that the years have passed, a lot has changed for the loving pair. Just last week, Tony announced that his gorgeous wife — who has been battling brain cancer since 2013 after beating lung cancer in 2009 — was suggested by doctors to go into hospice care. However, he declined because “of the amazing good deeds she has graced us with while she’s been here on earth,” the Thank God It’s Friday actor explained in a Facebook post shared to Valerie’s account on July 22.
Like the previous 43 years of wedding bliss, Tony won’t be leaving his beloved wife’s side. “For those of you who have been in this position, you will totally understand that ‘it’s hard letting go,’” he wrote in the heartbreaking social media post. “So as long as I’m able and capable, I’ll be where I belong right beside her.”
Valerie and Tony have such a genuine love story!