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Peggy Lipton, ‘Mod Squad’ star who bridged TV generations, dies at 72

They were “The Mod Squad:’’ Michael Cole, Ms. Lipton, and, far right, Clarence Williams III. Their handler, Tige Andrews, was second from right.
They were “The Mod Squad:’’ Michael Cole, Ms. Lipton, and, far right, Clarence Williams III. Their handler, Tige Andrews, was second from right. (ABC television)

NEW YORK — Peggy Lipton, the angel-faced actress who starred in “The Mod Squad” and made a television comeback in the “Twin Peaks” series, died Saturday in Los Angeles. She was 72.

Her death was confirmed by her daughters, Kidada and Rashida Jones. Ms. Lipton received a diagnosis of colon cancer in 2004.

She was 22 when she achieved instant stardom on the ABC police drama “The Mod Squad” (1968-73), one of the first prime-time series to acknowledge the existence of the hippie counterculture and an early example of multiracial casting.

The tag line — “First they got busted, then they got badges” — referred to three attractive, street-wise flower children (“One black, one white, one blonde,” as another tag line explained) who, after some trouble with the law, joined the police force and worked undercover. Ms. Lipton received four Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe Award for her role.

She largely disappeared from the screen until she appeared in David Lynch’s 1990-91 cult-hit series, “Twin Peaks,” about a teenage girl’s murder and the surprising number of dark secrets in her Pacific Northwest hometown. There was Ms. Lipton — seemingly untouched by time, with the same straight blond hair, slim figure, radiant skin, and air of vulnerability — as Norma Jennings, the unhappily married but beatific owner of the Double R Diner.

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Ms. Lipton contended that the vulnerability required little acting on her part.

“I never had confidence — never,” she told People magazine in 1988, as her comeback loomed. “The hardest thing to know is your own worth, and it took me years and years to find out what mine is.”

She returned as the same character in “Twin Peaks: The Return,” in 2017, and in the show’s spinoffs, including “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.”

Margaret Ann Lipton was born on Aug. 30, 1946, in New York City, one of three children of Harold Lipton, a corporate lawyer, and Rita (Benson) Lipton, an artist. Peggy grew up in Lawrence, one of the prestigious “five towns” on Long Island, and eventually attended Professional Children’s School in Manhattan. She also began modeling in her teens and studied acting with Uta Hagen.

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In her 2005 memoir, “Breathing Out,” she revealed that as a child she was sexually molested by an uncle.

After the family moved to Los Angeles, in 1964, Peggy, then in her late teens, moved out.

“I lived as a Topanga Canyon hippie for a year,” which displeased her parents but may have been useful character research, she told The New York Times in 1972.

Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

She made her television debut as a secretary on an episode of the sitcom “Bewitched” in 1965 and followed that with guest spots on series including “Mr. Novak,” “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” and “The John Forsythe Show” the same year. Her film debut was in “Mosby’s Marauders” (1967), a Civil War drama.

Then “The Mod Squad” came along.

At the time, she also pursued a singing career, releasing her album, “Peggy Lipton,” in 1968. Her covers of two Laura Nyro songs — “Stoney End” and “Lu” — made the Billboard charts.

In 1974, Ms. Lipton married Quincy Jones, the Grammy Award-winning musician and producer, and largely retired from acting — with the exception of a television movie, “The Return of Mod Squad,” in 1979, which she did as a personal favor to old friends. The couple divorced in 1990.

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Being a biracial couple was not without its difficulties. “In the past, it could be ugly out there,” she told the Next Tribe website last year. “Wherever Quincy and I went, there was an edge to people’s reactions.”

Although she was best known for her television work, Ms. Lipton appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including “The Postman” (1997) and “A Dog’s Purpose” (2017). Her final screen appearances were in the 2017 episodes of the relaunch of the “Twin Peaks” series, but she also appeared on two episodes (2016-17) of “Angie Tribeca,” playing the mother of her daughter, Rashida.

In the Next Tribe interview, she mentioned one of the pleasures of being older. She had just attended a Hollywood party, where a couple of actresses in their 40s were noticeably full of energy and ambition. Ms. Lipton said she had just relaxed and allowed herself to be a neutral observer and to appreciate their conversation, without feeling a hint of competitiveness. “Sometimes it’s just the little things you notice,” she said. “And you enjoy being a witness.”