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Overview for Karen Black
Karen Black

Karen Black


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Also Known As: Karen Blanche Ziegler Died:
Born: July 1, 1939 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Park Ridge, Illinois, USA Profession: Cast ... actor screenwriter singer


A key female performer of the American film renaissance of the 1970s, Karen Black was known for her warm smile, sturdy-yet-fraught quality and imperfectly set eyes. In 1965, Black won a Drama Critics Award nomination in for her Broadway debut in the short-running "The Playroom," but subsequent work in films limited her stage appearances. After earning praise as the small-town waitress who falls for upper-class drifter Jack Nicholson in "Five Easy Pieces" (1970), Black lent her versatility and unconventional beauty to a number of both offbeat and mainstream films, including Nicholson's "Drive, He Said" (1971), Robert Altman's "Nashville" (1975), in which she sang and earned a Grammy nomination for her efforts, and Alfred Hitchcock's swan song, "Family Plot" (1976). She did well as the sluttish Myrtle in "The Great Gatsby" (1974), but that same year found herself the object of parody for her silly role as a flight attendant forced to try to fly an airplane in "Airport 1975" (1974). She was the party girl who dreams of stardom in "The Day of the Locust" (1975), and memorably portrayed various characters in the cult-classic TV movie "Trilogy of Terror" (ABC, 1975). Although her Hollywood career had petered out by the end of that decade, she remained a cult favorite, and her 2013 death was widely mourned by fans.

Whereas others might have thrown in the towel or become women in jeopardy in TV movies with regularity, Black instead turned to independent films. While some were of downright horrendous quality, others offered her a wider range of roles than Hollywood might have. Among the best was Robert Altman's screen adaptation of "Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" (1982), in which she portrayed a transsexual. At the other end of the spectrum was her embarrassing role as an overprotective mother in "The Invisible Kid" (1988). In the middle of the decade, she had a recurring role as Elliott Gould's ex-wife on the sitcom "E/R" (CBS, 1984-85), and, in 1989, joined the parade of actors making guest appearances on the popular cop series "Miami Vice" (NBC, 1984-1990). She also appeared in "Invaders from Mars" (1986) with Hunter Carson, her son by screenwriter/actor L.M. Kit Carson. Black seemed never to turn down a part and was often available for low-budget films by first-time directors. As a result, her output did not diminish with her salary "quote," and, during the mid-1990s, she had numerous films in the can awaiting release, ranging from the comedy "Plan 10 from Outer Space" (1995) to the sequel "Children of the Corn: The Gathering" (1996) to the indescribable "Dinosaur Valley Girls" (1996).

In the new millennium, Black was largely relegated to getting by on her status as a cult favorite, though she did appear in occasional notable productions, including the offbeat computer-obsessed movie "Teknolust" (2002), starring Tilda Swinton, and she gamely embraced her horror roots as Mother Firefly in Rob Zombie's gory creep-fest "House of 1000 Corpses" (2003). Featured in low-budget films and occasional TV shows during her final years, Black died of cancer in 2013. One of her final public appearances came earlier that year, when she sang a duet with alt-folk singer-songwriter Cass McCombs on his song "Brighter!" from the album Big Wheel and Others.

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