Actress Louise Fletcher, who gave an Oscar-winning performance as villain Ratched in 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and won hearts when she made a sign to her deaf parents during her Oscars speech, died on Friday.
Fletcher, who battled breast cancer twice until she was 80, died at her home in France, according to agent David Shaul, who confirmed the news to Deadline. No cause of death was given, but Shaul said Fletcher died in her sleep surrounded by her family. She was 88.
While the role of the frigid, unlovable nurse in Milos Forman’s acclaimed adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel Fletcher made her famous, she struggled to find meaningful roles and discovered that as someone who found fame in her forties, she was often overlooked in favor of younger ones became an actor. But she thrived on small fare, like religious leader Kai Winn Adami on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and foul-mouthed matriarch Peg on Shameless.
“If a role interests me, I don’t mind how small it is,” she told The Times in 1982. “People always tell me, ‘You’re going to ruin your career if you do stuff like that.’ But I like working. And you can’t just sit at home and call yourself an actress. The only way to be an actress is to act.”
She was born Estelle Louise Fletcher on July 22, 1934 in Birmingham, Alabama, the second of four children of deaf parents. Her father Robert was an Episcopalian minister who lost his hearing when we were struck by lightning at the age of 4. Her mother Estelle was born deaf. Her father spent much of his time away from home planting churches for the hearing impaired.
Extremely shy, Fletcher’s teachers initially believed that she was also deaf and recommended that her parents send her to a special school in Talladega. Instead, they sent her to Texas to live with a wealthy aunt who said she had the time and resources to encourage the young girl to speak. Fletcher credited her aunt with sparking her interest in acting.
“She didn’t have any kids, so she doted on us all,” Fletcher said in a 2016 interview with the Independent. “She was very theatrical and musical and she dressed us up and we sang and danced and put on plays and got a lot of attention, a lot of approval. She taught me how to show off. I just loved getting applause.”
Fletcher attended the University of North Carolina, graduating in 1957 with plans to work in theater. She made her way to Los Angeles and had to beg to audition for film roles when she ran out of money. She booked modest, bit parts on several TV shows in the late 1950s and 1960s, including Lawman, Maverick, The Untouchables, Wagon Train, and Perry Mason, but had a hard time getting roles get because, at 5ft 11 – she often towered over her male peers.
“No television producer would have thought that a tall woman could be sexually attractive to anyone. I could get jobs in westerns because the actors were even taller than me,” she told the New York Times in 1975.
And the few parts she got lacked depth.
“I saw myself on an old episode of ‘Perry Mason’ the other day and I’m like a kid. So innocent,” Fletcher recalled in a 2016 interview with The Washington Times. “I had no life experience to draw on, but I played that very well.”
She married literary agent-turned-producer Jerry Bick in 1960 and soon had their first child, Andrew. She gave up acting in 1962 while pregnant with their second child, John. Fletcher recalled her father leaving home for weeks and said she wasn’t ready to do the same to her own children.
“I couldn’t bear to go away day after day,” she told the New York Times. “The thought of leaving before they got up and coming back after they were in bed was unbearable.”
Fletcher said she was glad she got married, had children, raised her and traveled with her family before she got her big break in roles on Thieves Like Us and Cuckoo’s Nest.
After living in London for six years, the couple returned to Hollywood so Bick could produce Robert Altman’s 1974 film Thieves Like Us. Altman insisted that Bick cast Fletcher in a prime supporting role. Altman approached Fletcher again for his next project, Nashville, but then withdrew the offer and handed the role to Lily Tomlin after he and Bick fell out. The character was written for Fletcher and she was furious when Tomlin won an Oscar for the role.
Her prospects were so bleak that she said she was turned down by 15 agents when trying to find work in Hollywood.
“I was past the age to be a romantic lead,” she told the Independent. “Pretty soon I’d be too old to play young and too young to play old.”
Everything changed when Forman showed up. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” his award-winning masterpiece, landed Fletcher a career-defining role as Nurse Ratched, a cold, emotionally distant nurse at an Oregon mental hospital and the counterbalance to Jack Nicholson’s villainous rule-breaker Randle McMurphy. She was the last actress cast in the film after 40 other women were offered auditions. Filming began just days after she landed the role.
“It’s a miracle I survived the first day. I was so scared It wasn’t until later that I realized everyone was scared,” she told the Times in 1976.
Fletcher lived apart from the cast, which included Nicholson, Michael Berryman, Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, so as not to interfere with the dominant personality she was honing for the role.
The role earned her an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture and earned Nicholson his fifth Academy Award. While Nicholson’s salary was “enormous,” Fletcher joked, “The rest of us worked for the order of magnitude or a little above. I worked 11 weeks and made $10,000 – before taxes.”
Fletcher channeled some of her frustration into her Oscar acceptance speech: “Well, it looks like you hated me so much that you gave me that award. And all I can say is — I loved being hated by you.” She also thanked her parents in sign language during the show.
However, Fletcher seemed to be struck by the bane of the Oscars, career and personal unhappiness that actors sometimes suffer after wins. She and Bick divorced in 1977 and she lost two siblings. And the few roles she was offered were often for villains, hungover from playing Nurse Ratched.
She occasionally directed films such as The Cheap Detective and Brainstorm, actress Natalie Wood’s last film. The latter was delayed because of Wood’s drowning in 1981, but Fletcher was keen for audiences to see the film. She said it was her most significant role since Cuckoo’s Nest.
“I took it because it was a great role,” she told The Times in 1983, “because I wanted to work with Douglas Trumbull and because Natalie was a friend, I like working with people who laugh and she had the most wonderful sense.” of humor.”
She appeared in Flowers in the Attic, Strange Invaders, Predator and Once Upon a Time in America in 1987 just to work with Robert De Niro. She also took on TV roles, playing the religious leader on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a role that she says garnered her the most fan mail she’s ever received. She has also appeared in 7th Heaven, ER, Private Practice, Heroes, and Shameless, while earning Emmy nominations for Picket Fences and Joan of Arcadia.
She received the 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham and the 2016 Mary Pickford Award from the International Press Academy.
“It’s the ‘We can’t believe you’re still here’ award,” Fletcher joked.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-09-23/louise-fletcher-dead-obit Louise Fletcher, Nurse Ratched in ‘Cuckoo’s Nest,’ dies at 88