Why Mary Tyler Moore Once Said She Appreciated a Tuna Sandwich from Her Husband More Than Jewels (Exclusive)

A new documentary about the TV icon reveals how she finally found long-lasting love in the most unexpected of places


As one of the most iconic stars of the 20th century, Mary Tyler Moore had what seemed like an enviable life: two hugely popular sitcoms and one of the most recognizable megawatt smiles on TV.

But privately, the gifted actress desired a partner who simply protected and cared for her, as revealed in the HBO documentary Being Mary Tyler Moore. After two failed marriages, she found that in her third husband Robert Levine, a cardiologist who once examined the star's ailing mother at Mount Sinai Hospital and unexpectedly connected with Moore.

When Levine asked the actress to call if there were other issues with her mother, Moore replied, "Is acute loneliness a good enough reason to call you?” Said Levine, "I can't think of a better reason to be awakened at 3 a.m."

The couple eventually wed at Manhattan's Pierre Hotel on Thanksgiving Eve in 1983, at Moore's suggestion. During her bridal shower, she shared with her friends, which included Betty White, a story of how Levine made her a tuna sandwich when she was hungry one night.

Related: Inside Mary Tyler Moore's 33-Year Love Story with Robert Levine, Who Stayed by Her Side in Her Final Hours

<p>DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock</p>

DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

"It was the most loving thing that anybody had ever done for me ever before in my life," Moore said. "I've been given jewels. I've been given a lot of things that we all think are obviously of value."

But all those gifts and baubles held little value for the actress, compared to "that tuna fish sandwich that was for nothing, from someone who gave it only to me."

Related: Mary Tyler Moore: Her Life in Pictures

For more on Mary Tyler Moore, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Moore and Levine's romance lasted more than 33 years and endured through her final days, long after successes like The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show went off the air and late-career projects that included memorable turns in films like Ordinary People and Stolen Babies.

Reflecting on his time with the legend, Levine described their love story as "magic."

"I cry, I laugh," he says. "I'm just bowled over by how extraordinary she was."

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