She was an American actress, screenwriter and singer-songwriter who became the muse of young emerging American filmmakers.
The revolution that arose in the Hollywood of the 70s, not only came from new and angry young directors (Spielberg, Coppola, Lucas, Hoopper…), but also had its interpreters. If Jack Nicholson stood out among them, among the actresses there was one who emerged with great force but lost steam over time: Karen Black.
Karen Blanche Ziegler, artistically known as Karen Black (Park Ridge, July 1, 1939 – Santa Monica, August 8, 2013), was an American actress, screenwriter and singer-songwriter, who became the muse of the young emerging American filmmakers of the early 70s of the last century. The actress became very popular internationally for having appeared in films such as ‘Easy Rider’, ‘My life is my life’, ‘The Great Gatsby’, ‘A plague of locusts’, ‘Nashville’, ‘Airport 75’ and in the Alfred Hitchcock’s latest film, ‘Family Plot’. During her artistic career she won two Golden Globes (out of three nominations) and an Oscar nomination in 1970 for Best Supporting Actress.
Karen Black grew up in an artistic environment: Her mother was Elsie Mary, a writer of very popular children’s novels. Her grandfather, Arthur Ziegler, was a classical musician who went on to become first violinist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Karen was the sister of fellow actress Gail Brown. In 1954 she began her studies at Northwestern University. She subsequently moved to New York studying acting with Lee Strasberg and where she would appear in an Off-Broadway production.
She made her film debut in 1959 in ‘The Prime Time’ with a small role, although her debut as an actress came from the hand of Francis Ford Coppola in 1966 with ‘You are already a great boy’. Three years later she was an actress for whom young directors were fighting: After ‘Hard Contract’ (1969), Denis Hooper claimed her for his legendary ‘Easy Rider’ in which she had a brief appearance, and she stars in ‘Hastings Corner’ (1970 ), Also in 1970, the actress shared the poster with her friend Jack Nicholson in ‘My life is my life’, directed by Bob Rafelson, with which she was nominated for an Oscar. A year later she stars in ‘Without looking back’ (‘Drive, He Said’, the directorial debut of Jack Nicholson.
In 1973 he composed and performed the central theme of the film ‘The Pyx’ and in 1974 he took part in the film adaptation of Scott Fitgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, together with Robert Redford, which became a huge success. In 1974 she plays Nancy Pryor, the stewardess who was forced to land a plane at ‘Airport 75’. In the same year she would play different roles in various segments of the ‘Trilogy of Terror’ telefilms, managing to become an icon of the genre. It is in these years when she becomes part of the Church of Scientology, which will harm her career in the long run.
In 1976, he starred, alongside Omar Sharif, in ‘The Last Resort’, by Ivan Passer, and in 1978, he appeared in another outstanding title, ‘Capricorn One’, by Peter Hyams. In the following two years, Karen Black, already completely consecrated, becomes the protagonist of several films directed by highly prestigious directors: John Schlesinger’s ‘A Plague of Locusts’, Robert Altman’s ‘Nashville’ that made her a country singer, she was a clumsy kidnapper in Hitchcock’s film ‘The Plot’, and starred with Bette Davis in the horror film ‘Burnt Offerings’. Specializing in women with dissipated lives or conflictive backgrounds, and with a feline but fragile sensuality, Black had the best years of her career in the seventies.
With the 80s his career began to decline, focusing mainly on television. Even so, in 1986 he starred in Tobe Hooper’s ‘Invaders from Mars’, returned to Robert Altman’s orders in ‘Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean’, and worked with Andrei Konchalovsky in ‘Homer and Eddie’. But little by little Hollywood was forgetting her. Her latest works include Rom Zombie’s ‘House of 1,000 Corpses’, Brian Jun and Jack Sanderson’s ‘She Loves Me Not’ and Jennifer Elster’s ‘The Being Experience’.
On August 8, 2013, Karen Black died in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, at the age of 74 from bladder cancer. A third of her pancreas had been removed, having overcome the disease in 2011, but a year later she relapsed and was operated on twice in 2012. Black was the mother of three children: Hunter Carson, Celine Eckelberry and Diane Koehnemann Bay, and grandmother of six (two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren).
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