Hilary Duff pays tribute to actress Mary Pat Gleason, her co-star in 'A Cinderella Story'

Hilary Duff has paid tribute to Mary Pat Gleason, her "A Cinderella Story" co-star who died Tuesday night at age 70 following a five-year battle with cancer.

Gleason had more than 170 roles to her name, including the CBS series "Mom" and a 1986 writing Emmy Award for "Guiding Light," the daytime drama in which she also starred. But the actress was best known onscreen as the kind-hearted waitress Eleanor, a frequent source of encouragement to the downtrodden Sam (Duff), in 2004's cult classic romantic comedy "A Cinderella Story."

“I am so saddened by this news," Duff wrote of Gleason's passing in an email tribute to USA TODAY. "Mary was a wonderful woman who was such an industry veteran and badass. I loved being on set with her. Just being in her presence, you felt comfortable and safe – like a warm hug. I feel grateful to have gotten even the small amount of time with Mary that I did many moons ago. My thoughts are with her family."

Gleason's other film roles included 2003's "Intolerable Cruelty" and Martha Corey in 1996's "The Crucible" as well as the comedies "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" in 2007 and "Bruce Almighty" in 2003.

Mary Pat Gleason, center, stars in "A Cinderella Story" with Regina King, left, and Hilary Duff.

Gleason had a recurring role on the Chuck Lorre sitcom "Mom," playing Mary, an AA member who told long, often bizarre anecdotes in group sessions. Mary died of a brain aneurysm during an AA meeting in an October 2019 episode, which was Gleason's final TV appearance. 

Allison Janey, whose Bonnie frequently had to interrupt Mary in the "Mom" meetings, said farewell to Gleason with an Instagram post.

"She was part of our @mom_cbs family and we loved her so much," Janey wrote. "She was one of our favorite guest stars. Her kind heart and warm smile will be missed. RIP dear Mary Pat."

Jaime Pressly, Jill on "Mom," wrote a heartfelt remembrance on Instagram, discussing the AA meeting scenes with Gleason. "You can look around the room and almost everyone has tears in their eyes because she’s just so pure," Pressly wrote. "Today I found out that our beloved Miss Mary Pat has passed and it’s a hard one to digest. However, in these angry, unsettling, unstable times I feel better knowing that we’ve got an amazing soul like her up there watching over us.

Other TV roles spanned "Friends," "Will & Grace," "How to Get Away With Murder," "Sex in the City," "The Blacklist," "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life," "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "The Middleman."

Mary Pat Gleason has died at age 70.

Gleason’s one-woman stage production, "Stopping Traffic," detailed her personal experiences with bipolar disorder "that changed how her industry deals the issue of mental health," her nephew John Brostrom said in an email to USA TODAY. The film is now used as a teaching aid for the Mayo Clinic’s mental health programs and her "advocacy created changes in mental health policies that resounded through various entertainment unions," Brostom wrote.

Her work will be featured in the upcoming Jay Silverman drama "Pencil Town."

Actor Ron Fassler posted a tribute on Facebook calling Gleason, "one of the dearest and sweetest people I have ever had the pleasure to know."

"She was so much more than a wonderful actress: she was one of a kind. So caring, so funny, and so delicious to be around, that I find it hard to imagine a world without her shining presence and smiling face," Fassler wrote. 

Off camera, Gleason was "a force of truth, humor, and heart," Brostrom wrote. "She was equally dedicated to her large extended family and an even larger non-DNA family. She will be missed. But because of the breadth of her work, we will get to see her forever."