The daughter of a Kosher frozen-food distributor, American actress Debra Winger dropped out of high school at 16 in order to join an Israeli kibbutz. Upon returning to the U.S., she studied criminology and sociology at California State University, but before long she had dropped out and became a tour guide at the Magic Mountain amusement park. A serious accident suffered on the job at age 18 gave Winger time to contemplate her future, and it was then that she settled upon an acting career. Her first taste of fame was as the superpowered younger sister of Lynda Carter in the fantasy TV series Wonder Woman. But Winger chafed at the impositions placed on her by tight TV filming schedules and she retreated to theatrical films, where she made a most inauspicious debut in the award-losing Slumber Party '57 (1977). Winger became a full-fledged audience favorite for her peppery role opposite John Travolta in Urban Cowboy (1980), which led to the most famous of her "working-class" roles in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982). Already balking at the "Hollywood Game," Winger made no secret of her discomfort in that film's famous nude love scene, nor of her failure to truly connect with co-star Richard Gere. The actress' next truly important part was as Shirley MacLaine's foredoomed daughter in Terms of Endearment (1983). Her resultant Terms performance was so good that it warranted an Oscar nomination. Winger never again had a box-office success to match Terms of Endearment, though she remained a darling of the film critics for her work in such little-seen epics as Mike's Murder (1984) and Black Widow (1986). As the actress' star stature diminished, media scrutiny of her private life increased thanks to her romance with Nebraska governor Robert Kerrey. Winger's roles became fewer and more unorthodox as she continued to seek out acting challenges -- never more so than when she popped up in a lengthy, unbilled male part (complete with goatee) in Made in Heaven (1987), which starred her then-husband, Timothy Hutton. Winger continued to appear in high-profile but low-grossing films into the 1990s, delighting critics and fans in such films as The Sheltering Sky (1990) and Shadowlands (1993). Winger missed out on appearing in one of the most profitable films of the 1990s when she was replaced by Geena Davis in A League of Their Own (1993); it was not temperament but personal injuries and a recurring back ailment that prevented Winger from participating in two other major moneymakers, Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and Bull Durham (1988). She did appear opposite Billy Crystal in the romantic comedy Forget Paris. As the 21st century began, Winger starred in and produced Big Bad Love, and the next year she was the subject of Searching for Debra Winger, a fascinating documentary about how actresses balance their lives and their career. She went on to appear in Radio, Rachel Getting Married, the third season of the HBO drama In Treatment, and the 2012 comedy Lola Versus.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Is named after her father's favorite actress, Debra Paget.
- Worked as a tour guide at an amusement park before she became an actress.
- Was partially paralyzed for several months after she was thrown from a truck when she was 18.
- Provided the vocal recordings that were remixed to create the voice of the alien in the movie E.T.
- Published a book of essays and poems called Undiscovered in 2008.