Karen Black, who was Oscar-nommed for “Five Easy Pieces” and starred in films including “Nashville,” and “Easy Rider,” died Thursday after a long battle with cancer. She was 74.
Her husband Stephen Eckelberry announced her death on Facebook, saying “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.”
The offbeat, intense actress also tried singing, songwriting and play writing, and was nominated for a Grammy for writing the songs “Memphis” and “Rolling Stone” which she performed in character in Robert Altman’s “Nashville.”
She often played women on the edge, actresses and hookers, and though she had a memorable comeback in Altman’s “Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” she largely worked in dozens of B-movies after the early 1980s.
Her first major film role came in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1966 “You’re a Big Boy Now,” and she also appeared in TV shows including “Adam 12,” “Mannix,” “Judd for the Defense” in the TV movies “Trilogy of Terror.”
Among her other roles were Nancy Pryor, the stewardess who is forced to fly the plane in 1974′s “Airport 1975,” as an actress in John Schlesinger’s “The Day of the Locust,” as Mabel in 1974′s “The Great Gatsby” and as a kidnapper in Alfred Hitchcock’s last film “Family Plot.”
Associated with several iconic films and directors of the 1970s, she talked to Paper magazine recently about the era, “We were just doing our thing. I happen to have an acting style that is very spontaneous and very un-self-conscious, and it went with the movies of the ’70s. It was a great time, it was a very beautiful time. There was a way of loving freedom — or loving spontaneity.”
Born Karen Blanche Ziegler in Park Ridge, Ill., she attended Northwestern U. and before moving to New York to appear in Off-Broadway productions. She took the name Black from her first husband, Charles Black.
Black was also married briefly to actor Robert Burton and to screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, with whom she had a son, Hunter Carson. She married Eckelberry in 1987, with whom she adopted a daughter, Celine.