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Hurricane Dorian Heads for the U.S.; Hong Kong Demonstrators Rally after Police Arrest Activists; New Trump Tariffs Kick In; Trump's Tweeted Iran Photo May Be Classified; Assam, India, Citizenship List Excludes 1.9 Million; Boris Johnson's Suspension of Parliament Sparks Brexit Protests; Remembering Valerie Harper. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired August 31, 2019 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hurricane Dorian keeps getting stronger, now a dangerous category 4 and headed right toward the Bahamas and Florida. We're keeping an eye on it.

Plus defying the police ban: Hong Kong pro-democracy activists head back to the streets despite warnings from police.

And also, Twitter troubles, the president of the United States responds to concerns about a photo that he published, a high- resolution, possibly classified image showing a failed rocket launch in Iran.

Live from CNN World Headquarters, we welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell. The CNN NEWSROOM starts now.


HOWELL: It is 4:00 am here on the U.S. East Coast and this hour the state of Florida is bracing for a monster storm. Take a look here at Hurricane Dorian. There it is, very well defined eye, that storm a category 4 with maximum sustained winds of 140 miles or 220 kilometers per hour.

It is still unclear exactly where the storm will make landfall. Right now it is projected to hit Melbourne, Florida, on Tuesday and then go up the coastline but that could change and it is a large, slow storm. So we shouldn't concentrate on just one point.

Here is a look at the storm from the International Space Station. Before Florida, Dorian will hit many parts of the Bahamas. Hurricane warnings are already in effect for the northwestern Bahamas.

The prime minister has issued evacuation orders for some locations and they are preparing for heavy rain and a lot of flooding. Basil Dean is the deputy director of the Bahamas Department of Meteorology and he talked about conditions earlier. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASIL DEAN, BAHAMAS DEPARTMENT OF METEOROLOGY: The good news for us here in New Providence is looking at our satellite imagery the eye is just slightly to the north of New Providence and that should lessen the trek to new providence.

But certainly it will continue to take aim for the extreme northwest Bahamas, in particularly Abaco and Grand Bahama.

And looking at the forecast wind fields, seems as though they will start to experience those tropical storm force winds as early as 4:00 or 5:00 am Sunday morning and, from there onward, things will go downhill as the hurricane force winds are expected to follow.




HOWELL: So with so much uncertainty, the entire state of Florida is preparing and our Martin Savidge has this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, guys, all the way down.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight all of Florida is under the state of emergency and the clock is ticking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Biggest concern about this storm is the uncertainty of where it is going and the intensity of which it is coming in.

SAVIDGE: Hurricane Dorian now expected to barrel head first into the sunshine state early Tuesday morning is gaining intensity and could now unload heavy rains, powerful winds and a strong storm surge on more than 20 million people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a little concerned that it's getting more and more concerned about what category and what is going to happen because I've never seen a hurricane.

SAVIDGE: Florida's governor said he's contemplating ordering evacuations. But hasn't yet.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): At the state level, you know we've been monitoring some of the decisions or contemplations about evacuations. It is something that we obviously believe, you know, for certain people it's going to be necessary and in certain communities they're going to need to do that.

SAVIDGE: But getting out could prove difficult. While there are long lines at gas stations, there is little gas. The state says at times as many as half of the fuel pumps in Miami have run dry. DESANTIS: Starting today implementing Florida highway patrol escorts for fuel trucks so we can facilitate refueling in critical parts of the state.

SAVIDGE: Those who aren't gassing up are preparing to hunker down.

DEBORAH THOMAS, WEST PALM BEACH RESIDENT: I live in a mobile home so I stand to be homeless but that is not really what is worried me. I have animals. I could replace my home but I can't my animals.

SAVIDGE: In Miami, they're stockpiling food and water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing?


SAVIDGE: Though at some stores that is also in short supply. Florida Power and Light says electricity could be out for days. The company is bringing in 16,000 workers, positioning them at 24 sites across the state.

DESANTIS: The damage that could be required will require extended repair work and at extreme cases it may require FPL to rebuild parts of the system here in Florida.

SAVIDGE: And tonight, Florida's governor is warning those caring for the elderly to have a plan and a generator in place. 12 people died in 2017 after a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, lost power in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

DESANTIS: These folks have got to - have got to step up and protect these folks.

SAVIDGE: More than a dozen universities preparing to shut down along with theme parks and other attractions. In a place that thrives on tourism, what should have been a busy Labor Day weekend is now a bust as the Sunshine State braces for days of rain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're hoping that everything comes out OK. But I'm kind of freaking out.


HOWELL: Martin Savidge there with the report.

Let's also talk about the impact on travel. The Orlando International Airport saying that it is planning to stop all commercial flights, flight operations, on Monday. That is at 2:00 am. Needless to say, flight cancellations will no doubt increase in the region as the storm gets closer.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, as we call it, is on standby just in case for other states whether they need support. My colleague Wolf Blitzer spoke with an associate administrator about what FEMA is doing to help.


JEFFREY BYARD, FEMA ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR: What we're doing is coordinating with state. We've got resources within the state of Florida. We're also beginning to move critical resources such as search and rescue, disaster medical assistance teams, those teams and personnel that can support the state in life-saving efforts.

We're moving resources down to the southern part of the state because as you just saw with your meteorologist, you know this is -- this storm could hit anywhere from South Florida up to Jacksonville. So we want to be able to move in along with the state behind the storm and provide aid to the American citizens as quick as possible.

And, Wolf, I'll also say we want to thank you for what you do and the team. You're part of the team when it comes to these storms and getting the message of preparedness out and making sure the citizens of Florida are aware of the dangers of this and possibly going into Georgia and into the Carolinas.

This is going to be a long duration for FEMA, our state partners and definitely our locals.

BLITZER: It is critically important that we report what's going on. You guys are doing life-saving work as all of us know.

Is there a plan to relieve what are clearly some serious gasoline shortages right now?

We're seeing that develop in various parts of Florida.

BYARD: Right. And you know we're very familiar with the fuel --


BYARD: -- infrastructure, architecture if you will within Florida and how fuel come news the ports primarily in the peninsula and then through pipelines and trucks in the northern part of the state. We are all working with the governor.

We're also working with the private sector to you know make sure that we get gas stations fuel but it is a challenge. You know you've got a large population. It is obviously fueling both cars and generators and critical you know things that they need and that is going to be a challenge. It always is in Florida.

You know when you look at evacuations in the storm of this magnitude. However, we will be enablers and not prohibitors to the private sector in every way possible.

BLITZER: What really worries me as someone who has covered a lot of these hurricanes over the years is those gasoline shortages could clearly hamper potential evacuation plans.

And that is a very, very serious concern, right?

BYARD: Yes, sir, it always is. I know working with the governor and his team we have -- they're working on plans to make sure that critical deliveries or working with the private sector to get critical deliveries into certain areas.

You know with some changes in the track, it may be a benefit for those in the very southern part of Florida, which is very densely populated as you well know, Wolf.

So that may aid to us, any help we could get we'll take across the board. But you know we're monitoring the fuel shortages, the fuel outages and we're working with our critical partners to see what, if anything, you know FEMA can do, the government can do and again what we don't want to do is prohibit anything with the private sector.

We really want to be an enabler to what they do.

BLITZER: What is the most important thing that people in Florida need to do to prepare right now?

BYARD: You know Wolf, first and foremost, make sure they know the risk and hazards that are around their communities. Make sure that they are listening to the local -- their local officials. They know it best.

You know we sometimes and a lot of times FEMA is on the TV and that is good. But it is really the local elected officials -- those local emergency managers that know their community. That is why we support state efforts. We don't necessarily lead them. And then you know your family. Have a plan. Have a kit. Download the FEMA app. Go to, all these things that you can do to get information. It is very important to make sure you are checking on your neighbors. That is what we do as Americans.

If you have elderly or you know population in your community that needs assistance, assist them. Be part of the team. And our citizens are the biggest part of our team that we have and they do a wonderful job in situations like this.

BLITZER: We know there are a lot of elderly people down in that part of Florida as well.


BLITZER: Jeff Byard, thank you to you and everything that the men and women of FEMA are doing for the people down in Florida right now. Appreciate it very much.

BYARD: Yes, sir. Thank you very much.


HOWELL: When it comes to big storms, a lot of people talk about the strength of Hurricane Andrew 27 years ago. Meteorologists are seeing some similarities between that storm and Dorian.

Take a look here. Here is what the storm did, Andrew, back then after it crossed the Bahamas. The hurricane hit southern Florida as a category 5 storm. It had winds of 165 miles per hour, that is 270 kilometers per hour. The storm killed 26 people and it caused some $26 billion in damage, destroying more than 25,000 homes.

Another story we're following this day, at least 10 teenagers were hurt when gunfire broke out at a high school football game. This happened in Mobile, Alabama. Five victims are said to be in critical but non-life threatening condition.

Police say one person suffered a seizure and another was injured while trying to get away. Two people have been detained and are being questioned by police there.

We're following events in Hong Kong. The pro-democracy activists are not letting up as police disapprove of them marching. Why they say they are not afraid.

Plus they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

But what about a tweet?

Well, a tweet with an image as well, it is raising questions. Stay with us.






HOWELL: Thousands of pro-democracy activists are on the streets of Hong Kong this hour. A live image of 4:17 pm. Take a look at that, out despite the rain. This is the 13th straight weekend that we've seen it.

That is even though organizers canceled a major march that was planned for Saturday after police refused to give permission. And it follows the arrests of several prominent activists. In the middle of it all, Andrew Stevens is following the story, live in Hong Kong.

Andrew, tell us about what you are hearing from protesters, who are showing their resilience.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: Well, the numbers are just getting bigger and bigger. There are now tens of thousands of protesters fundamentally clogging up this part of Hong Kong.

We're right in the heart of Hong Kong. This will give you an idea; there's still traffic flowing but these protesters are marching up from the western part of the city, pretty much as far as the eye can see.

And this is a massive show of defiance. That rally which was banned by the Hong Kong police, the organizers have had all their previous rallies approved and these are the people who have been getting a million-plus people; in one stage 2 million to their rallies. That rally is banned.

But this is the reaction by Hong Kongers, they have come out by the tens of thousands. And just to give you a sense of how many people are here, I'll show you the other side. Just a fraction here now but we have seen tens of thousands of people. Again, George, they are moving from -- or they are coming from all direction.

And it is not clear at this stage where they are going. The only thing we can say is they are not planning on leaving to go home anytime soon.

You mentioned about the arrests yesterday. It has been called the white terror here in Hong Kong. They say these are maneuvers by police to strike fear, by arresting people who police say are --


STEVENS: -- key people in this protest movement.

One of those is Joshua Wong. Just 22 years old, has already served time behind bars for his role in the 2014 Occupy movement. He was arrested early yesterday. We spoke to him briefly. And he was asked how long this would go on. This gives you the sense of the commitment being shown by him, this is what he had to say.


JOSHUA WONG, HONG KONG PRO-DEMOCRACY LEADER: We had never expected Hong Kong government to listen to our voice because Hong Kong government is just a proxy government. The leader of Hong Kong, the chief executive, is just a puppet of Communist regime.

But we still keep on our fight because we all know that President Xi and Beijing are facing certain international pressure and the discontent of Hong Kong people. And we are just the one demanding our fundamental right to elect our own government, the right enjoyed by the free world since last century.


STEVENS: So this is Joshua Wong who, just a few hours ago, was arrested and released on bail, one of seven pro-democracy people who have been -- high profile people who have been arrested.

But as you can see, it has had no dampening effect at all; just the opposite. This has people onto the streets again in large, large numbers. The weather conditions are pretty awful, there has been heavy rain for on most of the afternoon.

But it is not stopping the people out here. One other thing, one other observation we've seen today is this has been a protest which we have talked about the youngest generation really leading it. But today we've seen so many older people here. It started as what

was termed the religious rally and it has grown and grown. But the older Hong Kongers are really showing support for the continuing fight.

HOWELL: And we're watching people running, people in umbrellas there. This is something that we'll keep an eye on because, of course, as it gets later there, again 4:21 pm in Hong Kong, as it gets later and as we have seen time and time again, that is when police start to clear the streets.

And we will see how this unfolds in the coming hours. Andrew Stevens with the reporting, thank you.

The U.S. president may have put an image out in public that was not meant for the public to see. Let's take a look at that.


HOWELL (voice-over): In a tweet Mr. Trump writes that the U.S. had nothing to do with the explosion of an Iranian rocket on a launch pad on Thursday. And he adds, in a seemingly sarcastic voice, "good luck in determining what happened."

It is not the words here but instead that high resolution image of the explosion site that has analysts worried. It is such good quality analysts believe that it may be a classified photo. On Friday the president defended his tweet. Listen.



TRUMP: I just wish Iran well. They had a big problem. And we had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do. And we'll see what happens. You'll have to figure that one out yourself. But we'll see what happens. They had a big mishap. It is unfortunate. And so Iran as you probably know, they were going to set off a big missile and it didn't work out too well. Had nothing to do with us.


HOWELL: On Sunday a new round of tariffs between the U.S. and China kicks in, the latest back and forth in the months long trade war between the world's two largest economies.

Investors and company executives hope this is the final move that brings both countries to the table for talks to save their bottom lines. Mr. Trump insists though that it is business leaders who are to blame for this. Listen.


A lot of badly run companies are trying to blame tariffs. In other words, if they are running badly and they are having a bad quarter or they are just unlucky in some way, they are blaming the tariffs. It is not the tariffs. It is called bad management.


HOWELL: Let's put it all into focus with Natasha Lindstaedt, who teaches government at the University of Essex in England.

Great to have you with us.


HOWELL: There are a lot of questions about that image attached to the president's tweet. It is believed to be a classified high-resolution image of an Iranian launch site. President Trump says he has the absolute right to publish it, effectively declassifying it and putting it to the public.

What do you think about this and his assertion that he can do it?

LINDSTAEDT: Well, one thing we know about Trump is he always responds to these types of questions by saying I have the authority to do so. He seems to think that the president has just unlimited amounts of powers.

But we also know that he's had a very difficult relationship with the intelligence community. He doesn't trust them, he doesn't trust the --


LINDSTAEDT: -- CIA. He is very cavalier about intelligence.

So we don't know if it was classified, if it was an image that recently became declassified or became from elsewhere. But that gives us a lot of caution here because these are images that the president shouldn't be showcasing to the world in a tweet. It seems very dangerous.

I think for the intelligence community, we don't want our adversaries to know what we're doing. And that is not really what is going to be best for our security. And when we think about the relationship that Trump is trying to repair or destroy with Iran, he recently, at the G7 summit, said that he was willing to talk with their leaders.

And then now he comes out with a tweet where he is taunting them. I really can't understand the strategy. It seems very ad hoc, it seems spontaneous and it is dangerous because tweeting images, whether recently declassified or whether they were classified, seems to put U.S. security in peril.

And it just doesn't seem like a very good idea.

HOWELL: The eyes of the world, of course, keeping a close eye on what happens between China and the United States, this back and forth of tariffs. President Trump is also claiming that badly managed companies are using tariffs as an excuse for their struggling businesses. The question here, can he continue to sidestep the overall impact of

this trade war that he is engaged in with China?

LINDSTAEDT: I really don't understand this recent comment and how this will work for getting him reelected, if that is something that he obviously cares about, to go and attack business men which have typically -- and businesses which have typically been supportive of the Republican Party and to say, well, no, the problem is actually you, not the tariffs, when we know that the tariffs are causing havoc to both economies, China and the U.S.

It affects consumers, it affects farming and agriculture, it affects manufacturing and the supply chains. And we know that -- we feel like Trump is almost driving over a cliff by these types of policies.

To then double down and say, no, the problem isn't the tariffs, the problem are some businesses aren't being run particularly well, how is that going to make some of these leaders of the businesses feel that have often been staunch supporters of the Republican Party for policies that they believe are usually pro-business?

HOWELL: And also President Trump, we heard him break his silence about the sudden departure of his personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, sources saying that she was forced to resign after sharing intimate details about Mr. Trump's family with reporters at an off- the-record meeting.

Mr. Trump was clear in his decision. He says that it was essentially automatic. But here is the thing, his tone about all of this seemed a little different than you might expect. Listen.


TRUMP: Well, I guess she said, I think she said some things and she called me, she was very upset. She was very down, and she said she was drinking a little bit, and she was with reporters, and everything she said was off the record and that still doesn't really cover for it, mentioned a couple things about my children.

But she is a very, you know, good person and I thought -- I always felt she did a good job.


HOWELL: The president describing her as a good person but he has always been clear that his family is a red line for him.

LINDSTAEDT: It is. His family is obviously incredibly important to him. And anyone who says anything negative about his family is going to face repercussions. A lot of this is about -- I mean, I think that he sounded actually kind of disappointed with her in the audio because she's been so loyal to him.

And that is one of the things that is the most important to him with his employees, he demands complete loyalty. He doesn't tend to give it back; it is sort of a one way street. But he -- he wants all of the people that work for him to be undyingly loyal to him.

And when he sees that this doesn't happen, he becomes disappointed with them. And as you mentioned, the red line is that anybody saying anything about his family, whether it be something negative, whether it be revealing a secret that he felt was inappropriate, is a line that he doesn't people want to cross.

And while she was probably one of the most long-lasting people in his orbit, we've seen people just don't last very long in this setup, where everything is about loyalty and not about are you doing a good job, are you fulfilling your duties. So she lasted as long as she did but, in the end, it is all about are you loyal to Trump.

HOWELL: The Trump loyalty test certainly different than we've seen with his predecessors. Natasha Lindstaedt, thanks for your context and perspective.

LINDSTAEDT: Thank you.

HOWELL: Still ahead, the Bahamas is braced for impact. Hurricane Dorian --


HOWELL: -- is moving closer and people there, they are getting ready for the worst. We'll have the story for you ahead.




HOWELL: To our friends in Geneva and Cairo, Tokyo, Seattle and all points in between. Thanks for joining us.



HOWELL: At this hour, we're tracking this very strong Hurricane Dorian as it is making its way through the Atlantic on its way to the Bahamas. A hurricane warning for that region has been issued and the prime minister there is telling people to leave immediately. CNN's Patrick Oppmann has more from the city of Freeport.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For here in the northwest Bahamas, we've been feeling the wind pick up throughout the day. We've seen some of the first rain bands coming through.

But really Hurricane Dorian is still quite a ways away and the full power of the storm will not be felt until Saturday and into Sunday when this storm could come through here where I am as a powerful category 3 or 4 storm. And that will have a destructive impact on so many of the low-lying

islands. Here where I am, people are being evacuated from lower islands. The highest point of land is only about 30 feet high.

So when you think about the storm surge that could be caused from this very powerful hurricane, that could come up along this coast 10 feet or more, that is quite scary for so many of the residents that live along the water.

We walked up and down the beaches today and there were few people. People were out buying food and water, gassing up their cars, trying to put storm shutters on their homes, getting everything ready because they know, in the hours ahead, it will become increasingly dangerous to leave their homes.

As we were flying in on Friday on one of the last flights into Freeport here in the Bahamas, we were told that the airport would be shut down soon and that people were not going to be able to leave because it's even more dangerous to go out in a boat now.

We've seen people actually taking their boats from the ocean into the land, trying to get them into areas where they're less likely to be affected.

So officials are saying now is the time to get ready, to get all the items you need to ride out for possibly several days of very dangerous hurricane if you are in the Bahamas. And it is going to be a rough ride ahead. But this point many people here don't have any choice but to get prepared for the worst -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Freeport, the Bahamas.




HOWELL: So around the United States, people are headed to Florida right now, they are headed to do whatever they can to prepare for it. Take a look at this scene from the Atlanta area. My co-worker took this picture of crews headed south. The license plates were from as far away as Indiana, Ohio and the state of Michigan.

Other states are also helping out. In Pennsylvania, 50 utility workers from Allentown went down to Florida on Friday.

And then from Kentucky, about 40 Duke Energy workers headed down south. These include tree trimmers, damage assessors and also fuel trucks are headed that way. A lot of help on the way as the storm gets closer.

Boris Johnson's --


HOWELL: -- plan to suspend Parliament in the run-up to Brexit. Brexit is getting closer. Two former British prime ministers have already lined up against Boris Johnson's controversial move. John Major says he will join one of three court challenges.

And Gordon Brown gave a blistering speech, accusing Mr. Johnson of, quote, "shredding the constitution"

But the prime minister insists he knows what he's doing, as our Bianca Nobilo reports in London.


BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former prime minister John Major has joined the legal action against the current prime minister, Boris Johnson. There are now three cases against Johnson's decision to prorogue or suspend Parliament from sitting throughout the summer months and the late fall.

This would mean that there are only nine weeks until Brexit and Parliament would not be sitting for five of those.

If the legal action is successful, it would block Johnson from suspending Parliament. But Boris Johnson maintains that this is an important part of his strategy to refresh his domestic agenda. He is also defiant on his approach to continuing negotiations with the E.U.


BORIS JOHNSON, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: I think our European friends have understood one or two big points in the last couple of weeks. I think they get that the U.K. is really going for a deal, they understand that.

But they also understand that the U.K. is absolutely willing to come out without a deal if we have to, they understand that, too. And we're serious, we're totally serious about both propositions. And I think what that's encouraging is progress.


NOBILO: Boris Johnson's strategy in his final months before the U.K. is scheduled to leave the European Union is to demonstrate to the E.U., once and for all, that Britain means it when it says that it is prepared to leave the E.U. without a deal.

This is the message that he has been reiterating. And he is aware that some of his key ministers are underscoring that Britain is better prepared to leave without a deal than many people would expect.

Johnson's decision to ask the queen to prorogue Parliament has also been interpreted as a signal to his hardliners that he does in fact mean it when he says that Britain is leaving on the 31st of October -- Bianca Nobilo, CNN, London.


HOWELL: Bianca, thank you. The brother of world champion gymnast Simone Biles has been arrested and charged in the deaths of three people in the state of Ohio. Our Athena Jones reports.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tevin Biles-Thomas is facing serious charges in connection with this shooting on New Year's Eve. He was arrested in Liberty County, Georgia, on Thursday and is being held without bond.

He faces an arraignment a couple weeks from now in the Cleveland area all in connection with a shooting on New Year's Eve at a home in Cleveland.

Now according to a joint statement put out by the Cleveland Police and the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office, this incident took place around 11:30 pm when an uninvited group walked into the house and an altercation ensued between the uninvited guests and those who were invited.

That altercation led to gunfire. Several people were struck; two survived their injuries. Three others were killed. And so now Tevin Biles-Thomas is facing a number of serious charges, murder, voluntary manslaughter, felonious assault and perjury. He is scheduled to be arraigned in Cuyahoga County on September 13th -- back to you.


HOWELL: Athena Jones in New York, thank you.

The trial date for five men accused of plotting the September 11th terror attacks has been set. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others will appears in court on January 11th, 2021, according to a military order released on Friday. That trial is due to take place at the U.S. Naval facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

If convicted, Mohammed is likely to receive the death penalty.

The television industry has lost an icon. Ahead, we remember the life and career of actress Valerie Harper.






HOWELL: She played a pioneering character and fought for women's rights in real life. TV icon Valerie Harper passed away, she was 80 years old. Her family says that she died Friday after a long battle with cancer. Harper was known for playing Rhoda Morgenstern on "The Mary Tyler

Moore Show" and its spinoff, "Rhoda." Our Stephanie Elam has this report for you.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She was the girl upstairs, the best friend...


ELAM: -- as Rhoda Morgenstern, the unforgettable sidekick in the 1970s hit series, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

Born in New York in 1939, Valerie Harper grew up studying ballet and started out as a dancer on Broadway but it was in Los Angeles where she was discovered by a casting agent. Harper was asked to audition for the role as the single girl from New York who landed in Minneapolis on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

VALERIE HARPER, "RHODA MORGENSTERN," ACTOR: I'm going crazy with hunger.

MOORE: Eat something.

HARPER: I can't. I got to lose 10 pounds by 8:30.

ELAM: She played the funny, imperfect pal to America's sweetheart, Mary Richards. It was a part that would quickly launch her career as an actress. She won three Emmys for her role on "Mary Tyler Moore" before leaving the show in 1974 to star in the spinoff, "Rhoda."

"MORGENSTERN": My name is Rhoda Morgenstern, I was born in the Bronx, New York, in December 1941.

ELAM: Her portrayal of "Rhoda" earned her another Emmy and Golden Globe before the series ended in 1978. That year also brought an end to her first marriage to actor Richard Shaw.

She married her second husband, Tony Cacciotti, nine years later. During an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, Harper said one of the biggest milestones in her life was meeting Cacciotti.

HARPER: Having Tony Cacciotti in my life, at my side, at my back, helping me in every way possible and enjoying life with me and traveling and all the things we've done.

ELAM: Together the couple adopted their only child, Christina. She was public about the adoption, speaking to CNN's Larry King about the biological mother in 2000.


HARPER: We read a note to her from her birth mom. It was -- we sat together and I blessed the woman.

ELAM: Professionally, she stayed active on stage and in movies.

In 1986, Harper headlined in the family sitcom, "Valerie" as Valerie Hogan. She was fired from the series in a salary dispute with NBC at the end of its second season. She won more than $1 million dollars from the network and production company in the wrongful firing suit which followed.

The show which eventually became the "The Hogan Family" continued for years without her.

"MORGENSTERN": Mary! Mary!

ELAM: She reunited with Moore in 2000 for "Mary and Rhoda," a TV movie that brought their iconic characters back together again.

Behind the scenes, Harper got involved in the Women's Liberation Movement and fought for the Equal Rights Amendment. The Screen Actors Guild member unsuccessfully ran for president of the guild in 2001, losing to fellow actress Melissa Gilbert.

In her memoir, "I, Rhoda," the nonsmoker opened up about getting over lung cancer in 2009 but her battle with cancer was long from over. In March 2013, the TV icon revealed to "People" magazine that, while rehearsing for a stage show, she learned she had a rare terminal brain cancer. She received chemotherapy and kept a positive attitude.

HARPER: Don't go to the funeral, mine or yours or your loved ones, until the day of the funeral because then you miss the life that you have left.

ELAM: Harper leaves behind her husband and a daughter -- Stephanie Elam, CNN.


HOWELL: Valerie Harper passed away at the age of 80 years old.

Thank you for being with us here for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. The news continues after the break as we continue to track this very dangerous hurricane that is barreling right now toward the state of Florida. Stand by.