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Dick Van Dyke pays tribute to TV wife Mary Tyler Moore: 'Best 5 years of my life'

Mary Tyler Moore's name wasn't part of the title of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," but there was no question: In the end, she shone as brightly as he did. And during the nearly five years they worked together on that classic early TV sitcom, she charmed the world — and Van Dyke — in equal measure.

So much so that over 50 years later, Van Dyke, 91, still has very powerful memories of his former co-star (the pair played the married couple Rob and Laura Petrie), and spoke warmly of her in a tribute that was published in Wednesday's Hollywood Reporter, just hours after her death was announced.

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Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke were equally hilarious on "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

RELATED: Why Mary Tyler Moore remains an icon for working women everywhere

"I don’t know what made her comic timing so great," he told THR. "Mary just picked it up so fast. She had us all laughing after a couple of episodes. She just grabbed onto the character and literally turned us into an improv group, it was so well-oiled. That show was the best five years of my life."

When the show ended, surprisingly it took a little effort on Van Dyke and others' parts to get Moore her own show, but she did in the end: "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" — the one that reminded us how she could "turn the world on with her smile."

"It fell into the hands of great writers," he recalled. "It was a milestone, that show. It kicked off an awful lot of enthusiasm in a lot of women. She got it moving! ... The episode when Chuckles the Clown died? She was at the funeral and she was crying and suddenly, as she recalled him, she began to laugh. It was a performance that had me on the floor! It was just masterful comedy."

He also remembered that in 2012 he was able to present her with a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. By then, he said, he didn't see her much because her battle with diabetes was starting to wear her down.

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images
Moore with Van Dyke after receiving her Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2012.

RELATED: Mary Tyler Moore remembered by friends, co-stars: 'She will be missed terribly'

"That night, she had trouble seeing, so they had to bring her onstage in the dark," he said. "For me, it was a payoff moment. A culmination. Outside of her family, I don’t think there was anyone more proud of her than I was. Just to watch her grow was such a thrill for me. She left an imprint on television comedy."

And she did it with more than just her smile.

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