Beloved quirky actress Karen Black, who starred in a series of cutting-edge independent films in the ’60s and ‘70s, like Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and Nashville, died today after being diagnosed with ampullary cancer in November of 2010. She was 74. Black had one-third of her pancreas removed and had two more operations just this year to minimize the cancer. Her husband, Stephen Eckelberry, said in March that she was “mostly bed-bound” and down to 96 pounds from 156. The couple turned to a crowd-funding website and raised tens of thousands of dollars to pay for an experimental treatment in Europe.
Black, born Karen Blanche Ziegler in Park Ridge, Illinois, in 1939, famously played a New Orleans prostitute opposite Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, and Jack Nicholson near the end of their cross-country trek in 1969’s rule-breaking Easy Rider, and earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress for her portrayal of dim-bulb Rayette Dipesto, the kind-hearted, small-town waitress in 1970’s Five Easy Pieces, a part Nicholson recommended her for. It also won her a Golden Globe and a New York Film Critics award. Her writing and performing the songs “Memphis” and “Rolling Stone” for Robert Altman’s 1975 Nashville earned her a Grammy nomination. In her 50-year career, she also appeared in 1974’s The Great Gatsby, Portnoy’s Complaint, Airport 1975, Capricorn One, 1975’s The Day of the Locust, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1976 Family Plot, and quite a number of schlocky horror shows. “Scary movies I’ve done,” she told the Chicago Tribune in 2008. “They are not dominant in any way, shape, or form. I can tell you what happened, but it was sort of like a mistake. It’s like I went on a bad path and couldn’t find my way back.” One of those “mistake” movies was 1976’s Burnt Offerings with Bette Davis. Not too shabby. And, seriously, who doesn’t thrill to her multiple characters in the legendary 1975 ABC movie of the week, Trilogy of Terror? Goosebumps, even now. (There’s more to read at hollywoodreporter)