Being an aging actress in Hollywood is tough. But Karen Black had it more difficult than most. This past March, with her money from her ’70s golden age starring in films like Easy Rider and The Great Gatsby all spent, she took to Kickstarter to fund her treatment for ampullary cancer. She almost doubled her goal of $32,000 before she stopped accepting donations in June. But late Thursday afternoon, word broke that Black had died of her disease. She was 74.
Black starred in some of the greatest films of the ’60s and ’70s. In her memory, here are clips from five of her greatest performances.
Easy Rider (1969)
Black played a prostitute named Karen in Dennis Hopper’s counterculture road movie. Even in a relatively small part you couldn’t take your eyes off her.
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Her best known role may be as Rayette Dipesto in Bob Rafelson’s study of Boomer individualism. The whole movie is a showcase for Jack Nicholson’s “me me me” scenery chewing, but Black’s quiet presence is striking. If Jack is like the wild tetherball, flailing about in all directions, she’s like the pole, grounded and steady.
The Great Gatsby (1974)
Isla Fisher opted for a more comical take on Tom Buchanan’s lover Myrtle in Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby flick. Almost 40 years earlier, Black played Myrtle as a deluded dreamer with a crazed look in her eyes. She really is kind of terrifying in this scene.
As doomed country singer Connie White, Black showed how imprisoning fame can be in Robert Altman’s masterpiece. There’s no video available online showing just her work in Nashville, but she discusses the film in the above interview.
Family Plot (1976)
In Alfred Hitchcock’s last film, Black donned a platinum blonde wig for a largely mute role as a jewel thief. She exudes steely malice, especially when tangling with Bruce Dern, who’d previously played Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby.