Soap opera actress Jennifer Leak D'Auria dead at 76 from degenerative neurological disease

 March 29, 2024

A Wales-born American actress best known for her appearances on multiple daytime TV soap operas, Jennifer Leak D'Auria, passed away this week at the age of 76, according to Us Weekly.

Her death is believed to be the result of a years-long battle against a rare and incurable degenerative neurological disease known as progressive supranuclear palsy.

"A remarkable woman, strong, lovely, and incredibly talented"

The news of Leak's passing was initially shared Wednesday in a Facebook post from her first husband, Tim Matheson, whom she met as a co-star in the 1968 film "Yours, Mine, and Ours," in which she played the daughter of star Lucille Ball's character.

"It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of Jennifer Leak's passing," Matheson wrote. "She wasn't just my screen sister in 'Yours, Mine and Ours,' but also my beloved first wife."

"Jennifer was a remarkable woman, strong, lovely, and incredibly talented," he added. "My deepest condolences go out to her husband of 47 years, James D'Auria and their multitude of friends."

Actress best known for soap opera appearances

According to her obituary in The East Hampton Star, Leak was born in Cardiff, Wales, in 1947 and grew up in England, Israel, and Canada, before eventually moving to the U.S. -- first to Los Angeles, California, and then to New York -- in pursuit of an acting career.

It was in L.A. that Leak met and married Matheson, to whom she was wed from 1968 to 1971, per Us Weekly. After working in L.A. on "The Young and The Restless," she later moved to New York to work on the soap opera "Another World," where she met James D’Auria, whom she married in 1977 and remained wedded until her death.

The D'Aurias first settled in East Hampton but moved to Amagansett in the late 1990s before returning to East Hampton in 2013 and then moving south to Jupiter, Florida in 2017, where they lived there until she passed on March 18 at home.

Diagnosed with incurable progressive supranuclear palsy

It was also around 2017 that Leak was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, per The Star, at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

"Progressive supranuclear palsy is a rare brain disease that affects walking, balance, eye movements, and swallowing," according to the clinic. "The disease results from the damage of cells in areas of the brain that control body movement, coordination, thinking, and other important functions. Progressive supranuclear palsy also is called Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome."

"Progressive supranuclear palsy worsens over time and can lead to dangerous complications, such as pneumonia and trouble swallowing," the clinic added. "There's no cure for progressive supranuclear palsy, so treatment focuses on managing the symptoms."

Per The Star, Leak's husband D'Auria said, "Her courage and bravery tried in vain to fight the disease," and he noted that she had donated her brain tissue to the Mayo Clinic to aid further research into the disease as a "final gift."

Remains will be buried at childhood church in Wales

According to The Star, D'Auria said Leak was "a shy and private person, never desiring to be the center of attention or having the need for an audience. She saved those feelings and exhibited them only when on camera, and then she became electric."

She leaves behind her husband and a brother, Kenneth Leak, who lives in Toronto, Canada, and her remains will be cremated with the ashes buried at her childhood church in Wales.

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