Her husband, Murphy Brown star Charles Kimbrough, told the New York Times that Howland lost her battle with lung cancer on Dec. 31, 2015, but that she had not wanted her passing to be made public right away. Howland also requested that there not be a funeral or memorial service for her.
"It was the Boston side of her personality coming out," Kimbrough said. "She didn't want to make a fuss."
Howland is best known for playing the high-strung waitress Vera Louise Gorman on Alice for nine seasons in the '70s and '80s. Valerie Curtin originated the role in the 1974 Martin Scorsese movie Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, before CBS adapted the film for TV.
Prior to Alice, Howland studied dance and appeared on and off Broadway in productions of Twelfth Night, Company and Getting Married Today. Once the sitcom ended, Howland stuck mainly to television, making guest appearances in Murder, She Wrote, Sabrina, the Teenage WitchandThe Tick.
Howland is survived by her husband and daughter, Holly Howland, from her previous marriage to Michael J. Pollard.