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Having emerged from the heady days of the free-spirited 1960s, actress Margot Kidder became instantly famous for her fiery take on Lois Lane opposite Christopher Reeve in "Superman: The Movie" (1978). Prior to her career-defining role, Kidder made her first major film with former beau, director Brian De Palma, in "Sisters" (1973), though she struggled for several years until playing Lane. She followed up with "The Amityville Horror" (1979) and reprised Lois Lane for "Superman II" (1981), only to see the studio cut down her role to the bare minimum for "Superman III" (1983). Meanwhile, Kidder lived quite the colorful life off screen, marrying multiple times - including actor James Heard for a mere six weeks - while having dalliances with De Palma, Steven Spielberg and Richard Pryor. Kidder privately battled bipolar disorder throughout her life, but suddenly found herself the center of unwanted attention in 1996 when she publicly had a manic episode that lead to her being discovered disheveled in a cardboard box with a homeless man. In being forced to confront her problems, however, Kidder finally overcame her illness and found something resembling peace, as she continued to appear onscreen in films...
Having emerged from the heady days of the free-spirited 1960s, actress Margot Kidder became instantly famous for her fiery take on Lois Lane opposite Christopher Reeve in "Superman: The Movie" (1978). Prior to her career-defining role, Kidder made her first major film with former beau, director Brian De Palma, in "Sisters" (1973), though she struggled for several years until playing Lane. She followed up with "The Amityville Horror" (1979) and reprised Lois Lane for "Superman II" (1981), only to see the studio cut down her role to the bare minimum for "Superman III" (1983). Meanwhile, Kidder lived quite the colorful life off screen, marrying multiple times - including actor James Heard for a mere six weeks - while having dalliances with De Palma, Steven Spielberg and Richard Pryor. Kidder privately battled bipolar disorder throughout her life, but suddenly found herself the center of unwanted attention in 1996 when she publicly had a manic episode that lead to her being discovered disheveled in a cardboard box with a homeless man. In being forced to confront her problems, however, Kidder finally overcame her illness and found something resembling peace, as she continued to appear onscreen in films like "Halloween II" (2009) while proving herself to be a true survivor.
Born on Oct. 17, 1948 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, Kidder was raised by her American-born father, Kendall, a mining engineer, and her British Columbia-born mother, Jill, a homemaker. Because of her father's work, the family was required to move frequently and on occasion live in rather strange locations, including trailers, motel rooms and even a caboose. Her family's transient lifestyle led Kidder to attend 11 different schools during her first 12 years. Following a trip to New York City where she saw a production of "Bye, Bye Birdie," Kidder was taken with the idea of becoming an actress. But early signs of her later struggles with mental illness became frighteningly apparent when she swallowed a handful of codeine pills in a suicide attempt following a breakup with a boyfriend. At the time, no one thought to send her to a psychiatrist and instead, her parents enrolled her in boarding school to give her more stability. While there, Kidder studied drama and continued her acting training at the University of British Columbia. After graduating, she joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Vancouver and made her small-screen debut in the National Film Board production of "The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar" (1968), which won the Canadian Film Award for Film of the Year in 1969.
Following her first feature with the satirical "Gaily Gaily" (1969), Kidder was humbled by her performance in "Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx" (1970) enough to step back and study her craft further in New York City. She paid the bills by acting in TV commercials while attending classes, but soon returned to Los Angeles, where she met actress Jennifer Salt while on an audition. The two moved in together into a Nicholas Beach house that was frequented by New Hollywood luminaries like Donald Sutherland, Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma. Kidder had romantic relationships with both Spielberg and De Palma at the time, and later revealed that she led a rather indulgent life of sex and drugs during this period. Still struggling to find work, she finally landed her breakout role in De Palma's Hitchcockian thriller, "Sisters" (1973), which co-starred Jennifer Salt and Charles Durning. Kidder played the dual role of Danielle Breton/Dominique Blanchon, Siamese twins successfully separated as young children. With a budget of only $500,000, the film proved a commercial and critical success, and established Kidder as a Hollywood starlet.
Kidder went on to star in "The Gravy Train" (1974), written by Terrence Malick and co-starring Stacy Keach, and found further success in the holiday-themed slasher flick, "Black Christmas" (1974). From there, Oscar winner George Roy Hill directed the actress in his historical adventure film about an air circus flier, "The Great Waldo Pepper" (1975) starring Robert Redford as the titular Pepper. Meanwhile, Kidder met her first husband, Thomas McGuane, when cast in the film based on his novel "92 in the Shade" (1978), a sunbaked melodrama that boasted an impressive cast - Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Burgess Meredith and Harry Dean Stanton - and received positive reviews, but it ultimately failed at the box office. Though Kidder and McGuane had a daughter, Maggie, the couple divorced after a year of marriage. By then, Kidder's career skyrocketed when she was cast in her most famous role, playing feisty Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane to Christopher Reeve's beloved superhero in "Superman: The Movie" (1978). Kidder was one of 100 actresses who auditioned and managed to beat out fellow finalist Stockard Channing for the role. While the lion's share of praise was heaped on newcomer Reeve and Gene Hackman's take on Lex Luther, Kidder more than held her own, showcasing both a fiery temperament touched by occasional sentiment and a palpable chemistry with Reeve - though her spoken-word single from the film "Can You Read My Mind" elicited it's shared of derision and eye-rolling.
The following year, newly minted star Kidder starred in the horror classic, "The Amityville Horror" (1979), opposite James Brolin and Rod Steiger. Also in 1979, she married her second husband, actor John Heard, only to divorce a mere six weeks later. Returning to the role that made her famous, Kidder reprised the fiery Lois Lane for "Superman II" (1981), which was actually shot at the same time as the original. But because of Richard Donner's famous fallout with producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind, he was fired in favor of British director Richard Lester, which prompted considerable reshoots. After a starring turn in the friendship drama "Heartaches" (1981), she starred alongside Richard Pryor in the offbeat tragi-comedy "Some Kind of Hero" (1982). Because of their steamy onscreen scenes, rumors swirled at the time that the two were romantically involved. Though Kidder initially denied them, the rumors turned out to be true. But by 1983, she had moved on and married third husband, French director Philippe de Broca, and naturally divorced him a year later. She went on to appear as Lois Lane for the campy "Superman III" (1983), which co-starred Pryor and marked a true low point in the series. Due to her very vocal complaints against the Salkinds and their replacement of Donner on "Superman II," Kidder's role was significantly reduced to the bare contractual minimum, leading to the installment of the bland Annette O'Toole as Superman/Clark Kent's new love interest, Lana Lang. Fans were not pleased with the change.
On the small screen, Kidder played Eliza Dolittle opposite Peter O'Toole's Henry Higgins in a cable adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" (Showtime, 1983) and made her TV miniseries debut in the French-Canadian co-production, "Louisiana" (1984), directed by de Broca. But her career was in the midst of a precipitous decline from which she was unable to recover. Following the little-seen psychological drama "Little Treasure" (1985) and an episode of "The Hitchhiker" (HBO, 1983-87), Kidder reprised Lois Lane one last time for the critical and commercial disaster known as "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" (1987). Meanwhile, after decades of battling extreme moods swings behind the scenes, the actress was diagnosed with manic depression in 1988, though Kidder flatly rejected both her doctor's conclusions and their prescribed course of treatment. She went on to star in the TV movie "Body of Evidence" (CBS, 1988) and the Canadian drama, "White Room" (1990), but suffered a serious car accident while on the set of the Canadian production, "Nancy Drew and Daughter," that injured three discs in her neck. Just as she did with her psychiatric diagnosis, Kidder refused treatment - in this case surgery - and spent the next two years confined to a wheelchair due to muscle spasms. She eventually submitted to surgery, but her insurance company refused to pay for her care and left Kidder with a whopping $600,000 in medical bills, leaving the actress no choice but to declare bankruptcy.
Back in the saddle, Kidder appeared in the Canadian film, "La Florida" (1993), had an uncredited appearance in the Western comedy "Maverick" (1994), starring Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster, and landed a guest starring role on the revival of "Burke's Law" (CBS, 1994-95). Following a recurring role as an acting teacher on the short-lived sitcom "Boston Common" (NBC, 1996-97), Kidder was back in the news once again, this time for a notorious incident that forced her to suffer the slings and arrows of a salacious, bloodthirsty press. In April 1996, she was discovered by police sharing a cardboard box with a homeless man named Charlie in downtown Los Angeles after disappearing for four days. Her hair had been cut and her dental bridge removed to avoid being recognized. Kidder, who was suffering a severe manic-depressive episode, told police she was being stalked by the CIA and ex-husband Thomas McGuane. She was put into psychiatric care and was later released. Later in an appearance on "20/20" (ABC, 1978- ), Kidder recounted her ordeal and her lifetime of battling bipolar disorder, explaining that she finally accepted her illness and was able to keep it in check with amino acids and mineral supplements.
The incident failed to slow her work load, however, and Kidder appeared in a number of Canadian-made features while landing episodes of "Touched by an Angel" (CBS, 1994-2003) and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ). In the 2000s, Kidder settled into a quiet life in Montana, although she still worked fairly regularly, and even became a U.S. citizen in order to participate in the electoral process. She appeared in a production of "The Vagina Monologues" (HBO) in 2002 and had a major supporting role an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" (2002), starring Crispin Glover as Raskolnikov. Touching on her "Superman" fame, Kidder played Bridgette Crosby for two episodes of the long-running "Smallville" (The WB/The CW, 2001-2011), and went on to play Mia Kirshner's mother on a season three episode of "The L Word" (Showtime, 2004-09). Following a two-episode arc on "Brothers & Sisters" (ABC, 2006-2011), Kidder returned to features with roles in "On The Other Hand, Death" (2008) and "H2" (2009), Rob Zombie's sequel to his remake of the classic slasher flick, "Halloween" (1978).
By Virginia Pelley
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