Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Actress Karen Black dies aged 74

Actress Karen Black has died aged 74 (AP/Chris Pizzello)

Karen Black, the prolific actress who appeared in more than 100 movies and starred in such counterculture favourites as Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and Nashville, has died.

Her husband, Stephen Eckelberry, said she died on August 7 from complications from cancer. She was 74.

Known for her full lips and thick, wavy hair that seemed to change colour from film to film, Black often portrayed women who were quirky, troubled or threatened.

Her breakthrough was as a prostitute who takes LSD with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in 1969's Easy Rider, the hippy classic that helped get her the role of Rayette Dipesto, a waitress who dates an upper-class dropout played by Jack Nicholson in 1970's Five Easy Pieces.

That performance won her an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe Award. She would recall that playing Rayette really was acting - the well-read, cerebral Black, raised in a comfortable Chicago suburb, had little in common with her relatively simple-minded character.

In 1971, Black starred with Nicholson again in Drive, He Said, which Nicholson also directed. Over the next few years, she worked with leading actors and directors including Richard Benjamin (Portnoy's Complaint), Robert Redford and Mia Farrow (The Great Gatsby) and Charlton Heston (Airport 1975).

She was nominated for a Grammy Award after writing and performing songs for Nashville, in which she played a country singer in Robert Altman's 1975 ensemble epic. Black also starred as a jewel thief in Alfred Hitchcock's last movie, Family Plot, released in 1976.

The actress would claim her career as an A-list actress was ruined by The Day Of The Locust, a troubled 1975 production of the Nathanael West novel that brought her a Golden Globe nomination but left Black struggling to find quality roles.

By the end of the '70s, she was appearing in television and in low-budget productions. Black received strong reviews in 1982 as a transsexual in Altman's Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. But despite working constantly over the next 30 years, she was more a cult idol than a major Hollywood star.

Black was married four times. She is survived by Mr Eckelberry, a son and a daughter.

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