Karen Black

Active - 1960 - 2013  |   Born - Jul 1, 1939 in Park Ridge, Illinois, United States  |   Died - Aug 8, 2013   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Thriller, Horror, Crime

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Though her career of the late '80s and early '90s might indicate otherwise, Karen Black is one of Hollywood's finest actresses and has appeared in a number of well-wrought dramas. Born Karen Ziegler, she began her professional acting career after graduating from Northwestern University. After appearing in a few revues off-Broadway, Black enrolled in the Actor's Studio to study under Lee Strasberg. She made her film debut as a teenage artist's model in exploitation filmmaker Herschel Gordon Lewis' The Prime Time (1960).

In 1965, Black appeared on Broadway in The Playroom which only ran for a month, but did garner her a nomination for a New York Critic's Circle award. She then appeared in Francis Ford Coppola's You're a Big Boy Now (1967). She next appeared in Hard Contact (1969), but did not become well known until her convincing portrayal of a spaced-out LSD-taking hooker in the box-office sleeper Easy Rider (1969). The following year, Black won further acclaim for playing a goodhearted but somewhat dim-witted waitress in Five Easy Pieces. The role earned her a Best Supporting Actress award from the New York Film Critics and an Oscar nomination. With this auspicious beginning, Black went on to appear in a number of major Hollywood features during the '70s. Some of her most notable performances can be found in such films as Jack Nicholson's directorial debut Drive He Said (1971), The Great Gatsby (1974), The Day of the Locust (1975), and Robert Altman's Nashville (1975), where she got to show off her singing ability. In 1975, she also played four roles in the chilling television thriller Trilogy of Terror.

In the decades to come, Black would move from sensational starlet to bankable actress, appearing in several projects per year. As the 90's, 2000's, and 2010's rolled out, Black wouldn't slow down in the least, appearing memorably in everything from Zoe Clarke-Williams' Men to House of 1000 Corpses.

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  • Began taking college courses at the age of 16, only to drop out to pursue acting.
  • Wrote the songs "Memphis" and "Rolling Stone," which she sang in character as Connie White in the 1975 film Nashville.
  • Known to fans of punk-glam rock through the band called the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, fronted by Kembra Pfahler.  
  • Debuted as a playwright with 2007's Missouri Waltz, in which she also starred.
  • Belongs to the Church of Scientology with her fourth husband, Stephen.