One of the more underrated actresses working in the cinema, Bonnie Bedelia has been impressing critics and audiences with her strong and understated screen presence for over three decades. Frequently cast as put-upon wives and mothers, Bedelia did particularly memorable work in this capacity in the first two Die Hard movies and in Presumed Innocent (1990), all of which allowed her to provide depth and complexity to what could have been stock characters.
Born Bonnie Bedelia Culkin (she is the sister of Kit Culkin, father of Macaulay) in New York City on March 25, 1946, Bedelia began performing for an audience at a young age, beginning her study of ballet at the age of four and joining George Balanchine's School of Ballet three years later. At the advanced age of nine, she made her off-Broadway debut in a production of Tom Sawyer, then spent the next four years dancing professionally with the New York City Ballet and working in various summer stock and off-Broadway productions. Her television debut as a regular on the daytime soap Love of Life followed when Bedelia was 13; while working on the show, she also attended high school, studied at the Quintano School of Acting with Uta Hagen, and appeared in four Broadway productions. In 1967, Bedelia earned a Theatre World Award for her performance in the play My Sweet Charlie and subsequently joined actors Martin Sheen and Louis Gossett Jr. in their formation of a classical acting troupe in Los Angeles.
Bedelia made her film debut with a supporting role in The Gypsy Moths, a 1969 drama directed by John Frankenheimer that starred Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. That same year, she earned great acclaim for her work in Sydney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, which cast her as the pregnant wife of a hapless drifter (Bruce Dern). A role as a young bride-to-be in the similarly feted Lovers and Other Strangers followed in 1970, and Bedelia spent the remainder of the decade appearing largely in TV movies.
1983 provided Bedelia with a meaty starring role in the theatrical feature Heart Like a Wheel, the true-life tale of drag racer Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney. Though the movie made minor waves in theaters, Bedelia's hardscrabble portrayal received universal praise, so much so that there was strong Academy Awards buzz surrounding the actress. A Best Actress nomination eluded her, although she was duly recognized with a nod from the Golden Globes in 1984. She continued to do prolific television work in the 1980s, but also had enthusiastically received turns in such films as The Boy Who Could Fly (1986), a family drama that cast her as the widowed mother of two children, and Die Hard (1988), the action blockbuster that saw her prove an able foil for star Bruce Willis in her role as Willis' estranged wife. She reprised her role in the latter for Die Hard 2 two years later, and that same year gave a haunting portrayal of Harrison Ford's neglected and embittered wife in Alan J. Pakula's Presumed Innocent.
Bedelia subsequently continued to do much of her work on TV, earning an Emmy nomination for her performance in the noirish made-for-cable Fallen Angels (1993) and a Cable Ace Award nomination for Any Mother's Son (1997), a drama about a young Navy seaman who was murdered for being gay. She made a colorful return to the big screen in 2000 as one of the stars of Sordid Lives, Del Shores' campy comedy about the reunion of three generations of a dysfunctional Texas family. The micro-budgeted film became something of a cult hit, and Bedelia parlayed the success into a starring role on the Lifetime network's police drama The Division. Though the award-winning series would eventually go off the air after four seasons, Bedelia continued to nurture a fruitful and rewarding career with series director Bobby Roth when she appeared in both his 2003 Jack the Dog follow-up Manhood, and his 2005 Vietnam-era drama Berkeley.
She then took a five-year hiatus from movies and TV before returning in 2010 with a part in the NBC drama Parenthood.