Seventies acting icon Karen Black dies at 74
With her ski nose and slightly crossed eyes, actress Karen Black was not what you would call conventionally pretty. Even more amazing was the fact that movie and TV cameras would not take their gaze away from her. Nominated as Jack Nicholson's girlfriend for "Five Easy Pieces," Black would go on to play a stewardess forced to commandeer a jumbo jet in"Airport '75;" a harried apartment dweller matching wits with a reanimated Zuni fetish doll in "Trilogy of Terror;" a loving wife who literally throws herself into her housework in "Burnt Offerings;" the role that this writer remembers her the most for, aspiring singer and dancer Faye Greener in "Day of the Locust." Black has lost her ongoing battle with cancer at the age of 74.
Actress Karen Black has lost her ongoing battle with cancer at the age of 74.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "It is with great sadness that I have to report that my wife and best friend, Karen Black has just passed away, only a few minutes ago," her husband of 25 years, Stephen Eckelberry, wrote on Facebook. "Thank you all for all your prayers and love, they meant so much to her as they did to me." Eckelberry was Black's fourth husband, with whom she had a daughter. Black is also survived by her son from her third husband, actor-screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson.
Hailing from Chicago, Black had her breakthrough role in "Easy Rider" after performing for almost ten years. It is in that counter-culture classic that Black played "Karen" one of two prostitutes that bikers Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper pick up.
Black then played the put-upon girlfriend of Jack Nicholson, who played a piano-playing prodigy disguised as an oilfield roughneck. The classic diner scene is remembered by all who have seen it. It was for this role that Black was nominated for an Academy Award.
"'Five Easy Pieces' was really my first real movie," Black said, unable to attend a New York tribute screening of "Easy Rider" due to illness last April. "There was "Easy Rider," but in this, I had the leading lady role. Jack was so validating, he gave me so much support...Jack and I had profound respect for one another. He's a great man."
Black was inescapable as an actress in Seventies American cinema. She appeared in more than 200 TV shows and movies over the course of her nearly six-decade acting career. Many memorable roles included the brassy Myrtle Wilson in the Robert Redford version of "The Great Gatsby," and had memorable roles in "Portnoy's Complaint" and "Nashville." She also played a slinky kidnapper in Alfred Hitchcock's final film "Family Plot."
This writer's favorite Karen Black performance is the 1975 adaptation of Nathaniel West's "The Day of the Locust" lack plays a naďve want-to-be actress in Depression Era Hollywood. She tends to her ailing salesman father (Burgess Meredith) and then hooks up with shy, retiring accountant Homer Simpson (Donald Sutherland) who sees as a "meal ticket." It all ends rather horribly .
Black would have a love-hate relationship with "Locust." When this writer approached her to autograph my "Day of the Locust" poster, she threw up her fingers in the sign of the cross, as if to ward off evil spirits. She later graciously autographed a photo of herself from that film, with one of her choice lines: "Hollywood parties - PUKE! Best to you, Greg."
Determined to work until she could no longer, Black took a few films that were beneath her talents. She was a frequent fixture on the Hollywood theater circuit.
"I would say that I have greatly enjoyed working in certain movies," Black told newspaper journalists. "And it's difficult for me to say that one has been better than another; it doesn't seem fair to me. I very much enjoyed doing 'Five Easy Pieces' as well as 'Nashville.' ...I have found a kind of serenity in working with Ivan Passer. And there are other wonderful experiences that I have had. So I am just very thankful for the life I have lived."
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