1 July 1939 - 8 August 2013
The Purple Patch was unfortunately out of action when the news came through of Karen Black's sad passing, aged 74, hence this somewhat belated obituary.
Karen was unquestionably one of the great female character actresses of her generation. Memorably making her first big impact as a prostitute on a bad trip in the seminal Easy Rider (1969), she proved particularly adept at finding the inner depths and turmoil in her characters and bringing it to the forefront. The 70's saw her flit between the Hollywood heights and more interesting roles in smaller movies, her Oscar-nominated performance as the happily oblivious Rayette in Five Easy Pieces (1971) contrasting nicely with her turn as a doomed hooker in occult thriller The Pyx (1973) (see review here). 1975's The Great Gatsby and Nashville (where she composed her own songs) saw her firmly in the Hollywood A-list, yet that same year she embedded herself in the minds of horror fans the world over with three (four?) sterling performances in Dan Curtis' made-for-TV classic portmanteau, Trilogy Of Terror. It seemed that this actress was more interested in doing roles she found interesting than in simply going for the high profile jobs. She teamed up with Curtis again in '76, this time with Oliver Reed and Bette Davis for the eerie Burnt Offerings, and played a kidnapper for Alfred Hitchcock in his final film Family Plot.
After 1982's Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, some questionable choices saw Black appear in her share of straight-to-video fare, but she frequently gave these movies more dignity than they deserved. She wasn't alone, by any means - the eighties proved to be difficult times for many a talented performer.
Things picked up again with more interesting roles as the 90's and then a new millennium arrived, and she also began recording commentaries and interviews for DVD issues of her earlier works. A supporting part as an eccentric mother in Some Guy Who Kills People (2011) was memorable, but sadly a battle with cancer slowed down her work rate before taking her life. Karen is survived by her fourth husband and three children.
Here's a montage of some of her more memorable moments, from her own You Tube channel...