Remembering Karen Black, 1939—2013
By Matthew Breen
She was known to millions for her role in high art films, big budget productions, and campier horror fare, too. But recently Karen Black was battling terminal cancer, even turning to crowdsourcing, asking fans to help her raise funds for exotic cures. The proved unsuccessful and it has been reported that she passed away at the age of 74 due to complications of pancreatic cancer. Her husband wrote in a Facebook post:
“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. Thank you all for all your prayers and love, they meant so much to her as they did to me.”
Black's first big role was in Francis Ford Coppola’s You’re a Big Boy Now (1966) but the film that made her a star was Easy Rider (1969), costarring Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, and Jack Nicholson. She was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar and won a Golden Globe award for Five Easy Pieces (1970), and she won Golden Globe in 1974 for the role of Myrtle Wilson in The Great Gatsby. Other major roles included that of a jewel thief in Alfred Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot (1976), Nashville (1975) in which she wrote her own songs and for which she was nominated for a Grammy, a woman terrorized by a murderous Zuni doll in TV movie Trilogy of Terror (1975), and she played a transgender character in Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982).
The Advocate spoke to Black in 2009 when she appeared in the movie The Blue Tooth Virgin. She said: “I’ve had a lot of failures and I never stopped. It didn’t occur to me to not continue. It didn’t cross my mind. I have known people who with a failure will become despondent about the future. That’s something you either do or don’t do. I think you just continue and you love your chosen art. Think of painters starving when no one bought their paintings—imagine if they didn’t paint anymore.”
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