Karen Black in 1975’s ‘Day of the Locust’ (Photo: Everett Collection)
Karen Black, the Oscar-nominated star of groundbreaking films of the ’60s and ’70s like “Easy Rider,” “Five Easy Pieces” and “Nashville,” died on Thursday at the age of 74. Her husband, Stephen Eckleberry, confirmed on Facebook that she succumbed to cancer after a two-year battle.
Black trained at the Actor’s Studio in New York under the legendary acting teacher Lee Strassberg before making her film debut in 1966 with Francis Ford Coppola’s early film “You’re a Big Boy Now.” She shot to stardom three years later in the counterculture classic “Easy Rider” alongside Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as one of the women who join the bikers on a drug trip in a New Orleans cemetery (“Mickey” singer Toni Basil was the other).
Black earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in “Five Easy Pieces” as the country-singing waitress in an unhealthy relationship with Jack Nicholson’s disaffected classical pianist. This led to roles in many high-profile films of the 1970s, including “The Great Gatsby” with Robert Redford, Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” and “Family Plot,” Alfred Hitchcock’s final film. She also hosted “Saturday Night Live” in its second season (she returned to the show again in 1981). Her most indelible work of the decade, though, might well be the TV movie “Trilogy of Terror,” where she played the main character in three short horror films — including the famous solo battle with the Zuni fetish doll.
Karen Black in 2012 (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)Karen Black continued to work throughout the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, though mostly in low-budget independent and horror films, including Rob Zombie’s directorial debut “House of 1000 Corpses.” She had two projects she worked on before becoming gravely ill: the romantic indie “She Loves Me Not,” which premiered just this past Tuesday at the Midwest Independent Film Festival, and the online project “The Being Experience.”
Black grabbed headlines this past March when she went public with her cancer battle and started a crowdsourcing effort to raise funds for her treatment. Her GoFundMe page nearly doubled its fundraising goal, bringing in nearly $62,000 in donations from fans.
On her official blog, Black’s husband posted an update on Wednesday detailing her struggle with her disease and deteriorating condition. Eckleberry wrote, “One doctor told me that he thought that Karen had only 24 hours to live when she arrive at St. Johns June 3rd, and yet here she is alive two months later.” He went on to say that interactions with fans sustained both of them: “Karen and I have received hundreds of messages from you. Your prayers and well wishes help sustain us. We remain eternally grateful for all the love you continue to share.”
Black is survived by her son, Hunter Carson (they appeared together in the 1986 film “Invaders From Mars”) and adopted daughter Celine Eckleberry