Karen Black

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Karen Black
Karen Black - Ace.jpg
in Ace Up My Sleeve (1976)
BornKaren Blanche Ziegler
(1939-07-01)July 1, 1939
Park Ridge, Illinois, U.S.
DiedAugust 8, 2013(2013-08-08) (aged 74)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Ampullary cancer
OccupationActress, screenwriter, singer, composer
Years active1960–2013
Spouse(s)Charles Black (1960–?; divorced)
Robert Burton (1973–1974; divorced)
L. M. Kit Carson (1975–1983; divorced)
Stephen Eckelberry (1987–2013; her death)
ChildrenHunter Carson (born 1975)
Diane Koehnemann Bay
Celine Eckelberry (born 1987)
RelativesGail Brown (sister)
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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)
BornKaren Blanche Ziegler
(1939-07-01)July 1, 1939
Park Ridge, Illinois, U.S.
DiedAugust 8, 2013(2013-08-08) (aged 74)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Ampullary cancer
OccupationActress, screenwriter, singer, composer
Years active1960–2013
Spouse(s)Charles Black (1960–?; divorced)
Robert Burton (1973–1974; divorced)
L. M. Kit Carson (1975–1983; divorced)
Stephen Eckelberry (1987–2013; her death)
ChildrenHunter Carson (born 1975)
Diane Koehnemann Bay
Celine Eckelberry (born 1987)
RelativesGail 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 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 DeNiro, Cisco Pike (1972) with Kris Kristofferson and Gene Hackman, Portnoy's Complaint (1972), 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.

In 2014, Black appeared on the track "Brighter" off Cass McCombs album "Big Wheel & Others".

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]



1960The Prime TimeBetty - Painted Woman
1966You're a Big Boy NowAmy Partlett
1969Hard ContractEllen
Easy RiderKaren
1970Five Easy PiecesRayette DipestoGolden 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
1971Drive, He SaidOlive
A GunfightJenny Simms
Born to WinParm
1972Cisco PikeSue
Portnoy's ComplaintMary Jane Reid - The Monkey
1973The PyxElizabeth Lucy
The OutfitBett Harrow
The Great GatsbyMyrtle WilsonGolden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Law and DisorderGloria
Airport 1975Nancy Pryor
1975Trilogy of TerrorJulie
Millicent Larimore
Therese Larimore
The Day of the LocustFaye GreenerNominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
NashvilleConnie WhiteNominated—Grammy Award for Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special
1976Family PlotFran
Burnt OfferingsMarian RolfSitges-Catalonian International Film Festival Best Actress Award
Crime and PassionsSusan Winters
1977Capricorn OneJudy Drinkwater
1978In Praise of Older WomenMaya
The SqueezeClarisse Saunders
1979The Last WordPaula Herbert
Killer FishKate Neville
1981Separate WaysValentine Colby
Chanel SolitaireEmilienne d'Alençon
Killing HeatMary Turner
1982Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy DeanJoanne
The Last Horror FilmKaren Black(uncredited)
Miss RightAmy
1983Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?Zee
1984Bad MannersGladys Fitzpatrick(also released as Growing Pains)
1985The Blue Man aka Eternal EvilJanus
Savage DawnRachel
Cut and RunKarin
Martin's DayKaren
1986Invaders from MarsLinda Magnusson
Flight of the Spruce GooseGloria
1987HostageLaura Lawrence
1988The Invisible KidMom
Dixie LanesZelma Putnam
Out of the DarkRuth Wilson
The Legendary Life of Ernest HemingwayMartha Gelhorn
1989Homer and EddieBelle
1990Mirror, MirrorSusan Gordon
The ChildrenSybil Lullmer
Club FedSally Rich
Zapped Again!Substitute Teacher
OverexposedMrs. Trowbridge
Twisted JusticeMrs. Granger
Night AngelRita
Evil SpiritsElla Purdy
1991The Roller Blade SevenTarot
Rubin and EdRula
Children of the NightKaren Thompson
1992Return of the Roller Blade SevenTarot
The Double 0 KidMrs. Elliot
Tuesday Never ComesMichelle
Caged FearBlanche
JudgmentTiffany Powers
Aunt Lee's Meat PiesAunt Lee
1993Bound and Gagged: A Love StoryCarla
The TrustMaria Vandermeer
Dark BloodMotel Woman(completed in 2012)
1995Plan 10 from Outer SpaceNehor
The Wacky Adventures of Dr. Boris and Nurse ShirleyEvelyn
Children of the Corn IV: The GatheringJune Rhodes
Sister IslandRose Walsh
Movies Money MurderBettie
Every Minute is GoodbyeSchubert
Dinosaur Valley GirlsRo-Kell
1997DogtownRose Van HornHermosa Beach Film Festival Best Actress Award (also for Sugar: The Fall of the West)
Conceiving AdaLady Byron
Mother Coer
StirDr. Gabrielle Kessler
1998Fallen ArchesLucy RomanoChicago Alt. Film Festival Best Actress Award
I Woke Up Early The Day I DiedWhip Lady
Bury the EvidenceThe Mother
MalaikaJessica Martin
1999The Underground Comedy MovieMother
MascaraAunt Eloise
Paradise CoveMa
2000Red DirtAunt Summer
Oliver TwistedMrs. Mary Happ
2001Gypsy 83 (2001)Bambi LeBleau
SoulkeeperMagnificent Martha
The DonorMrs. Springle
Hard LuckAunt Judy
2002TeknolustDirty Dick
ButtlemanMrs. Buttleman
Curse of the Forty-NinerAunt Nelly
2003Summer SolsticeDr. Sally McDermott
House of 1000 CorpsesMother FireflyFangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Supporting Actress
2004America BrownMarianne Brown
International Fantasy Film Award for Best Actress
New York VisionFest Outstanding Achievement Award
My Suicidal SweetheartGrace's Mom(released as Crazy for Love)
Dr. RageMolly
2006Hollywood DreamsLuna
WhitepaddyMrs. Leider
Read You Like a BookKate
2007Suffering Man's CharityRenee
One Long NightBarbara
2008WatercolorsMrs. Martin
A Single WomanStoryteller
The Blue Tooth VirginZena
2009Double DutyAnnabelle
Irene in TimeSheila Shivvers
Repo ChickAunt de la Chasse
Stuck!Next Door Neighbor Lady
2010Nothing SpecialMay
2011Some Guy Who Kills PeopleRuth Boyd
Letter's from the Big ManSean's Colleague
Maria My LoveMaria
2012VacationlandLouise Bergen
2013Ooga BoogaMrs. Allardyce
She Loves Me NotKarla
2014Wild in BlueJustine(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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