Michael Cole, Peggy Lipton and Clarence Williams in Mod Squad.
Michael Cole, Peggy Lipton and Clarence Williams in Mod Squad.

Mod Squad star dead at 72

Actress and former model Peggy Lipton, who rose to stardom in the 1960s on the counterculture police TV series The Mod Squad and later starred in Twin Peaks, has died.

Her death from cancer was announced on Saturday by Kidada and Rashida Jones, her daughters from a marriage to famed music producer Quincy Jones.

"She made her journey peacefully with her daughters and nieces by her side," Lipton's daughters said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. "We feel so lucky for every moment we spent with her."

Born in New York on August 30, 1946, Lipton began modelling at age 15 and quickly found herself in demand. At age 19, she made her television debut on the sitcom The John Forsythe Show, going on to make appearances on such series as Bewitched, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and The Virginian.

The waifish, blonde Lipton had just turned 21 when she rocketed to fame in 1968 as the street-smart flower child Julie Barnes, one of a trio of Los Angeles undercover "hippie cops" on the ABC crime series The Mod Squad.

Peggy Lipton has died at age 72. Picture: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP.
Peggy Lipton has died at age 72. Picture: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP.

One of pop culture's first efforts to reckon seriously with the counterculture - and one of the first TV shows to feature an interracial cast - the series, which co-starred Michael Cole and Clarence Williams III, dealt with issues such as domestic violence, abortion, police brutality, the Vietnam War and drugs.

Over five seasons, the series earned Lipton, one of the "it" girls of her time, four Emmy nominations and a 1971 Golden Globe award for best actress in a TV drama.

Her role and later marriage to Jones, who is black, put Lipton at the centre of the passions of a restive America dealing with racism and a post-World War II generation who were breaking free from their parents.

The Mod Squad's edgy music and hip slang marked a significant shift from shows like Gunsmoke and Leave It to Beaver. But while the show turned the mini-skirt- and-bell-bottoms-clad Lipton into a fashion icon, she found the spotlight uncomfortable.

Actress Rashida Jones, centre, poses with her father Quincy Jones, left, and her mother Peggy Lipton, right. Picture: AP Photo/Danny Moloshok.
Actress Rashida Jones, centre, poses with her father Quincy Jones, left, and her mother Peggy Lipton, right. Picture: AP Photo/Danny Moloshok.

"I never saw myself as trendsetting," Lipton told The Times in 1993. "We were always working. Fame really drove me into my house. I was very paranoid. I didn't like going out. I had no idea how to be comfortable with the press. I was very young. It was really hard for me."

Lipton parlayed her role on The Mod Squad into a singing career, enjoying chart success with her cover versions of Stoney End and Lu by Laura Nyro and Wear Your Love Like Heaven by Donovan.

In 1974, Lipton married Jones and, with the exception of a 1979 Mod Squad reunion TV movie, stepped away from her career to focus on raising a family. The pair's daughters, Kidada and Rashida, would both become actresses, the latter gaining fame on the comedy series The Office and Parks and Recreation.

After Lipton and Jones divorced in 1989, Lipton decided to return to acting, landing the role of Norma Jennings on the cult TV series Twin Peaks. "It was very scary," Lipton told The Times in 1993.

Michael Cole, Peggy Lipton and Clarence Williams in The Mod Squad.
Michael Cole, Peggy Lipton and Clarence Williams in The Mod Squad.

"I had a push-pull thing inside me that I wanted to do it … I had become so insulated in my world as a mother, that I didn't know how to pick up the phone and call anybody to put myself out there." She and Clarence Williams III made cameo appearances in a 1999 big-screen version of The Mod Squad that starred Claire Danes, Omar Epps and Giovanni Ribisi. In her 2005 memoir Breathing Out, Lipton wrote of her struggles with fame and the racism she and Jones faced as an interracial couple and revealed that she had been diagnosed with and treated for colon cancer the previous year.

In recent years, Lipton continued to appear in occasional supporting roles in films such as When in Rome and A Dog's Purpose.

"We can't put all of our feelings into words right now, but we will say: Peggy was and will always be our beacon of light, both in this world and beyond," her daughters said in a statement.

"She will always be a part of us."