Karen Black

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For the lead singer of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, see Kembra Pfahler.
Karen Black
Karen Black - Ace.jpg
in Ace Up My Sleeve (1976)
Born Karen Blanche Ziegler
(1939-07-01)July 1, 1939
Park Ridge, Illinois, U.S.
Died August 8, 2013(2013-08-08) (aged 74)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Ampullary cancer
Occupation Actress, screenwriter, singer, composer
Years active 1960–2013
Religion Scientology
Spouse(s) Charles Black (1960–?; divorced)
Robert Burton (1973–1974; divorced)
L. M. Kit Carson (1975–1983; divorced)
Stephen Eckelberry (1987–2013; her death)
Children 3, including Hunter Carson
Relatives Gail Brown (sister)

Karen Blanche Black (née Ziegler; July 1, 1939 – August 8, 2013) was an American actress, screenwriter, singer and songwriter. She is known for her appearances in such films as Easy Rider (1969), Five Easy Pieces (1970), The Great Gatsby and Airport 1975 (both 1974), The Day of the Locust and Nashville (both 1975), Alfred Hitchcock's final film Family Plot (1976), and Capricorn One (1978). Over the course of her career, she won two Golden Globe Awards (out of three nominations), and an Academy Award nomination in 1971 for Best Supporting Actress.[1]

Early life[edit]

Black was born as Karen Blanche Ziegler to Jewish parents in Park Ridge, Illinois, in suburban Chicago, the daughter of Elsie Mary (née Reif), a writer of several prize-winning children's novels, and Norman Arthur Ziegler, an engineer and businessman.[2][3][4] Her paternal grandfather was Arthur Charles Ziegler, a classical musician and first violinist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.[5] Her sister is the actress Gail Brown. Black was of German, Bohemian (Czech) and Norwegian descent.[6] She was a 1957 graduate of Maine Township High School East.


Black made her Broadway debut in 1965's The Playroom, which received good reviews and for which she was nominated for a Drama Circle Critic Award for Best Actress. Her film debut was in The Prime Time (1960) and her first big role was in You're a Big Boy Now (1966), directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Beginning in 1967, she appeared in guest roles in several television series, including The F.B.I., Run for Your Life, The Big Valley, The Iron Horse, Mannix and Adam-12.

Her feature film career expanded in 1969, playing the role of an acid-tripping prostitute opposite Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in the iconic counterculture movie Easy Rider. In 1970, Black appeared as Rayette, the waitress girlfriend of Jack Nicholson, in the film Five Easy Pieces, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and earned her her first Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress-Motion Picture. Black played an unfaithful wife, Myrtle Wilson, in the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby, a performance that earned her a second Golden Globe Award in the same category. In the same year she starred as Nancy Pryor, the stewardess who is forced to fly the plane, in the disaster film Airport 1975 (1974).[7] In 1975, she played multiple roles in the televised anthology film Trilogy of Terror. The segments, all written by suspense writer Richard Matheson, were named after the women involved in the plot — a plain college professor who seduces a student ("Julie"), a pair of sisters who squabble over their father's inheritance ("Millicent and Therese"), and the lonely recipient of a cursed Zuni fetish that comes to life and pursues her relentlessly ("Amelia").

Black received another Golden Globe nomination as Best Actress for her role as an aspiring actress in 1930s Hollywood in John Schlesinger's The Day of the Locust (1975). She starred as a country singer in Robert Altman's Nashville (also 1975) and as a kidnapper in what turned out to be Alfred Hitchcock's last film, Family Plot (1976). She also co-starred with Bette Davis in Burnt Offerings (also 1976). She then played a dual role in a 1977 thriller, The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver.

Other notable films from the 1970s include Born to Win (1971) with George Segal and Robert De Niro, Cisco Pike (1972) with Kris Kristofferson and Gene Hackman, Portnoy's Complaint (1972) with Richard Benjamin, The Pyx (1973) with Christopher Plummer, The Outfit (1973) with Robert Duvall, Rhinoceros (1974) with Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, and Capricorn One (1978) with Elliott Gould.

In 1982, Black gave a critically acclaimed performance in Robert Altman's Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, where she starred alongside Cher and Sandy Dennis. From 1984 to 1985, she played the role of Sheila Sheinfeld in the NBC series, E/R. Other television credits include Saturday Night Live, Murder, She Wrote, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Her later career tailed off into numerous horror roles, but Black did gain and maintain a cult following, as alluded to by Family Guy television anchor Tom Tucker in his remark "Karen Black: what an obscure reference." in the episode Death Is a Bitch (season 2, episode 6). In 2003, Black starred as Mother Firefly in the Rob Zombie horror movie, House of 1000 Corpses.

In March 2005, Black received the Best Actress Award at the Fantasporto International Film Festival in Porto, Portugal, for her work in the critically acclaimed Steve Balderson film Firecracker (2005), in which she plays two roles, Sandra and Eleanor. She and actor John Hurt were both presented with Career Achievement Awards as well.

Black launched career as a playwright in May 2007 with the opening of Missouri Waltz at the Blank Theater in Los Angeles; Black starred in the play as well.

In April 2009, Black worked with director Steve Balderson for Stuck! — an homage to film noir women-in-prison dramas, which co-starred Mink Stole, Pleasant Gehman and Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go's. Black also starred in John Landis' 2010 thriller, Some Guy Who Kills People.[8] Later that year, Black appeared on Cass McCombs' song "Dreams-Come-True-Girl" from the album Catacombs.

Personal life[edit]

In 2010

Black married four times:


After her final films were released in 2010, she was diagnosed with cancer and stopped making public appearances. She had a portion of her pancreas removed that year and endured two further operations.[13] She was invited to attend the premiere of River Phoenix's last on-screen performance in the salvaged feature film Dark Blood, in which she had played a small part in the original early 1990s shoot. Black was unable to attend the event, held in the Netherlands in September 2012, due to her illness.[10]

On August 8, 2013, Black died in Los Angeles from ampullary cancer at age 74.[14] Actress Juliette Lewis paid tribute, saying "Karen Black was my mentor and a second mother to me. She inspired everyone she came in contact with."[15]



Year Title Role Notes
1960 The Prime Time Betty - Painted Woman
1966 You're a Big Boy Now Amy Partlett
1969 Hard Contract Ellen
Easy Rider Karen
1970 Five Easy Pieces Rayette Dipesto Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture (tied with Maureen Stapleton for Airport)
Laurel Award for Star of Tomorrow (runner-up)
Laurel Award for Top Female Supporting Performance (runner-up)
National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (runner-up)
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress
1971 Drive, He Said Olive
A Gunfight Jenny Simms
Born to Win Parm
1972 Cisco Pike Sue
Portnoy's Complaint Mary Jane Reid - The Monkey
1973 The Pyx Elizabeth Lucy
The Outfit Bett Harrow
1974 Rhinoceros Daisy
The Great Gatsby Myrtle Wilson Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Law and Disorder Gloria
Airport 1975 Nancy Pryor
1975 Trilogy of Terror Julie
Millicent Larimore
Therese Larimore
The Day of the Locust Faye Greener Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
Nashville Connie White Nominated—Grammy Award for Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special
1976 Family Plot Fran
Burnt Offerings Marian Rolf Sitges-Catalonian International Film Festival Best Actress Award
Crime and Passions Susan Winters
1977 Capricorn One Judy Drinkwater
1978 In Praise of Older Women Maya
The Squeeze Clarisse Saunders
1979 The Last Word Paula Herbert
Killer Fish Kate Neville
1981 Separate Ways Valentine Colby
Chanel Solitaire Emilienne d'Alençon
Killing Heat Mary Turner
1982 Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean Joanne
The Last Horror Film Karen Black (uncredited)
Miss Right Amy
1983 Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? Zee
1984 Bad Manners Gladys Fitzpatrick (also released as Growing Pains)
1985 The Blue Man aka Eternal Evil Janus
Savage Dawn Rachel
Cut and Run Karin
Martin's Day Karen
1986 Invaders from Mars Linda Magnusson
Flight of the Spruce Goose Gloria
1987 Hostage Laura Lawrence
1988 The Invisible Kid Mom
Dixie Lanes Zelma Putnam
Out of the Dark Ruth Wilson
The Legendary Life of Ernest Hemingway Martha Gelhorn
1989 Homer and Eddie Belle
1990 Mirror, Mirror Susan Gordon
The Children Sybil Lullmer
Club Fed Sally Rich
Zapped Again! Substitute Teacher
Overexposed Mrs. Trowbridge
Twisted Justice Mrs. Granger
Night Angel Rita
Evil Spirits Ella Purdy
1991 The Roller Blade Seven Tarot
Rubin and Ed Rula
Children of the Night Karen Thompson
1992 Return of the Roller Blade Seven Tarot
The Double 0 Kid Mrs. Elliot
Tuesday Never Comes Michelle
Caged Fear Blanche
Judgment Tiffany Powers
Aunt Lee's Meat Pies Aunt Lee
1993 Bound and Gagged: A Love Story Carla
The Trust Maria Vandermeer
Dark Blood Motel Woman (completed in 2012)
1995 Plan 10 from Outer Space Nehor
Starstruck Bertha
The Wacky Adventures of Dr. Boris and Nurse Shirley Evelyn
1996 Crimetime Millicent
Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering June Rhodes
Sister Island Rose Walsh
Movies Money Murder Bettie
Every Minute is Goodbye Schubert
Dinosaur Valley Girls Ro-Kell
1997 Dogtown Rose Van Horn Hermosa Beach Film Festival Best Actress Award (also for Sugar: The Fall of the West)
Conceiving Ada Lady Byron
Mother Coer
Stir Dr. Gabrielle Kessler
Men Alex
1998 Fallen Arches Lucy Romano Chicago Alt. Film Festival Best Actress Award
Charades Jude
I Woke Up Early The Day I Died Whip Lady
Bury the Evidence The Mother
Malaika Jessica Martin
1999 The Underground Comedy Movie Mother
Mascara Aunt Eloise
Paradise Cove Ma
2000 Red Dirt Aunt Summer
Oliver Twisted Mrs. Mary Happ
2001 Gypsy 83 (2001) Bambi LeBleau
Soulkeeper Magnificent Martha
The Donor Mrs. Springle
Hard Luck Aunt Judy
2002 Teknolust Dirty Dick
Buttleman Mrs. Buttleman
Curse of the Forty-Niner Aunt Nelly
2003 Summer Solstice Dr. Sally McDermott
House of 1000 Corpses Mother Firefly Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Supporting Actress
Paris Chantrelle
2004 America Brown Marianne Brown
2005 Firecracker Sandra
International Fantasy Film Award for Best Actress
New York VisionFest Outstanding Achievement Award
My Suicidal Sweetheart Grace's Mom (released as Crazy for Love)
Dr. Rage Molly
2006 Hollywood Dreams Luna
Whitepaddy Mrs. Leider
Read You Like a Book Kate
2007 Suffering Man's Charity Renee
One Long Night Barbara
2008 Watercolors Mrs. Martin
A Single Woman Storyteller
Contamination Mavis
The Blue Tooth Virgin Zena
2009 Double Duty Annabelle
Irene in Time Sheila Shivvers
Repo Chick Aunt de la Chasse
Stuck! Next Door Neighbor Lady
2010 Nothing Special May
2011 Some Guy Who Kills People Ruth Boyd
Letter's from the Big Man Sean's Colleague
Maria My Love Maria
2012 Vacationland Louise Bergen
2013 Ooga Booga Mrs. Allardyce
She Loves Me Not Karla
2014 Wild in Blue Justine (completed)

Source:"Karen Black". IMDb. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 


  1. ^ "Awards for Karen Black". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  2. ^ a b "Karen Black Biography (1939?-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  3. ^ Frisbie, Thomas (2008-06-18). "Article: Wrote history-based books for young adults". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-09-13. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ "Karen Black Biography - Yahoo! Movies". Movies.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  6. ^ "Karen Blanche Ziegler: Zellner Family Genealogy". Zellnerfamily.com. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  7. ^ "Karen Black dies at 74; actress starred in 'Five Easy Pieces' and 'Easy Rider'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  8. ^ "Some Guy Who Kills People Casting News". DreadCentral. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Overview for Karen Black". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  10. ^ a b c d "Karen Black obituary". theguardian.com. 2013-08-09. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  11. ^ "Show Business: Boom in Black". TIME. 1975-06-09. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  12. ^ Elder, Robert K. (2008-09-19). "Karen Black reflects on her life and career". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  13. ^ "'Five Easy Pieces' Actress Karen Black Dies at 74". The Hollywood Reporter. 2013-08-08. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  14. ^ "Actress Karen Black dies". chicagotribune.com. 2013-08-09. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  15. ^ "Karen Black, Easy Rider actress dies aged 74". BBC News US and Canada. 2013-08-09. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 

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