Karen Black, known for her roles in Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and many other films, died today (8 August 2013) at the age of 74. The cause was ampullary cancer.
Karen Black was born Karen Blanche Ziegler on 1 July 1939 in Park Ridge, Illinois. Her mother was children's novelist Elsie Reif and her father was Norman Ziegler. She attended Northwestern University in Chicago for two years before moving to New York City to pursue acting. She studied acting under Lee Strasberg and appeared in a few off-Broadway revues.
She made her film debut in a small part in The Prime Time in 1959. She was an understudy on Broadway in Take Her, She's Mine (1961-1962) and appeared on Broadway in The Playroom (1965-1966). In the Sixties she also appeared on Broadway in Happily Never After (1966) and Keep It In the Family (1967). She appeared in the films You're a Big Boy Now (1966), Hard Contract (1969), Easy Rider (1969), Freedom (1970), and Five Easy Pieces (1970), for which she was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She appeared on such television shows as The F.B.I., Run for Your Life, The Big Valley, Iron Horse, and Adam-12.
In the Seventies Miss Black appeared in such films as Drive, He Said (1971), Born to Win (1971), Cisco Pike (1972), Portnoy's Complaint (1972), Little Laura and Big John (1973), The Outfit (1973), Rhinoceros (1974), The Great Gatsby (1974) , The Day of the Locust (1975), Nashville (1975), Family Plot (1976), Burnt Offerings (1976), Capricorn One (1977), and The Last Word (1979).
In the Eighties she appeared in such films as Separate Ways (1981), Chanel Solitaire (1981), La donna giusta (1982), Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982), Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? (1983), A Stroke of Genius (1984), Martin's Day (1985), Savage Dawn (1985), Flight of the Spruce Goose (1986), It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987), Hostage (1987), The Legendary Life of Ernest Hemingway (1988), Homer and Eddie (1989), and The Children (1990). She appeared on Broadway in Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. She appeared on television in the shows E/R, The Hitchhiker, Murder She Wrote, and Faerie Tale Theatre.
In the Nineties she appeared in such films as Rubin and Ed (1991), Caged Fear (1992), Tuesday Never Comes (1993), Too Bad About Jack (1994), Starstruck (1995), Every Minute Is Goodbye (1996), Dogtown (1996), Men (1997), Fallen Arches (1998), Bury the Evidence (1998), Charades (1998), Mascara (1999), and Inviati speciali (2000). She appeared on television in the shows The Hunger, Profiler, and Party of Five.
From the Naughts into the Teens, Miss Black appeared in such films as Hard Luck (2001), A Light in the Darkness (2002), Curse of the Forty-Niner (2002), Buttleman (2003), House of 1000 Corpses (2003), Paris (2003) , Summer Solstice (2003), Birth of Industry (2004), Crazy for Love (2005), Firecracker (2005), A Single Woman (2008), Irene in Time (2009), Maria My Love (2011), and Ooga Booga (2013). She appeared on television in the show Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Karen Black was an extremely versatile actress, something that can be told simply by looking at her best known roles. She played a prostitute who trips on acid with Wyatt and Billy in Easy Rider, a glamorous but not particularly talented country singer in Nashville, an aspiring actress in Day of the Locust, and the waitress attached (rather unhappily) to musician Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson) in Five Easy Pieces. These roles were diverse enough that they could have been played by different actresses, and yet they were all played convincingly by Karen Black. She was an actress of great talent, making it little wonder that she was exceedingly prolific until her untimely death. Few actors displayed the talent that she did.