‘Shining’ actress, Robert Altman protégé was 75

Shelley Duvall, the thin, saucer-shaped drifter who starred in seven films directed by her mentor, Robert Altman, and dodged the axe wielded by a deranged Jack Nicholson in Stanley by Kubrick The shiningdied on Thursday. She was 75.

Duvall died in her sleep from complications of diabetes at her home in Blanco, Texas, said Dan Gilroy, her life partner since 1989, The Hollywood Reporter.

“My dear, dear, wonderful life partner and friend has left us. Suffered too much lately, now she is free. Fly away beautiful Shelley,” Gilroy said.

In November 2016, an unkempt Duvall appeared on an episode of the syndicated talk show Doctor Phil and revealed that she suffered from mental illness. “I am very sick. I need help,” she said. Four years later, THRSeth Abramovitch visited her for a memorable story.

Before leaving Hollywood in the mid-1990s to move to her native Texas, Duvall enjoyed a flourishing career as a versatile, unique actress and head of her own production company, Think Entertainment, which created innovative, star-studded children’s programming for cable television, earning her two Emmy Award nominations.

While attending junior college in her native Houston, Duvall was discovered by Altman’s associates and persuaded to take a screen test. She subsequently made her on-screen debut as teenage seductress and Astrodome tour guide Suzanne Davis in Brewery McCloud (1970).

Ten years later, Duvall sang and starred opposite Robin Williams as the iconic cartoon character Olive Oylthe strong-willed damsel in distress, in Altman’s live-action adaptation of Popeye.

In between, the child star worked with Altman as a mail-order bride in McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971); as the woman who has a romance with bank robber Keith Carmine red in Thieves like us (1974); as the groupie LA Joan, fond of hot pants and platform shoes, in Nashville (1975); as President Grover Cleveland’s wife in Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976); and as Millie Lamoureauxa fantasizing clerk at a senior living center in Palm Springs, in 3 Women (1977).

Requested by The New York Times In 1977, when asked why she chose to continue working with Altman, she said: “He offers me some damn good roles. None of them were the same. He has a great deal of confidence in me, and a trust and respect for me, and he doesn’t restrict me or intimidate me, and I love him.

“I remember the first piece of advice he ever gave me was, ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously.’ Sometimes I feel egocentricand then suddenly that advice pops into my head and I have to laugh.”

Altman once noted that Duvall “was able to turn all sides of the tide: charming, silly, sophisticated, pathetic, even beautiful.”

For her role as Millie, she won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

For the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The shiningDuvall said she was tested during the 13-month shoot in England. In the horror classic, she plays beleaguered wife Wendy Torrance, who spends a brutal winter in the abandoned Overlook Hotel with her writer husband (Nicholson) — who is slowly going mad — and their young son (Danny Lloyd).

Kubrick made her “cry twelve hours a day for weeks,” she said in a 1981 interview with People magazine.I will never give that much again. If you want to suffer pain and call it art, go ahead, but not with me.”

For one scene, she told Abramovitch in January 2021, she would put on a Sony Walkman and “listen to sad songs. Or you would just think about something really sad in your life or how much you miss your family or your friends. But after a while, your body would rebel. It would say, ‘Don’t do this to me anymore. I don’t want to cry every day.’ And sometimes just thinking about it would make me cry. If I woke up so early on a Monday morning and realized I was going to cry all day because it was planned, I would just start crying. I would think, ‘Oh no, I can’t do that, I can’t do that.’ And I would do it anyway. I don’t know how I did it. Jack told me that too. He said, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’”

According to one report, she had to reenact her iconic baseball bat scene a whopping 127 times.

Shelley Duvall

Duvall was memorable every time she appeared on screen, also playing a roomy rock journalist in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977); appeared as Pansy in funny scenes with Michael Palin in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981); and played Steve Martin’s supportive friend Dixie in Roxanne (1987).

Roger Ebert wrote in 1980 that Duvall “looks and sounds like almost no one else … and has possibly played more truly different kinds of characters than almost any other young actress of the 70s.

“In all her roles there is an openness about her, as if somehow nothing has come between her open face and our eyes — no camera, dialoguemake-up, acting method – and she just plays the character spontaneously.”

She returned to acting in 2022 after a two-decade absence with a role in The Forest Hills.

Shelley Alexis Duvall was born in Fort Worth on July 7, 1949, the eldest of four children (and the only daughter). Her parents, Bob, a cattle auctioneer turned lawyer, and her mother, Bobbie, a real estate agent, moved the family to Houston when she was 5. She attended South Texas Junior College, where she studied to become a research scientist and was interested in nutrition.

At a party she gave for her fianceeartist Bernard Sampson, she met members of Altman’s crew while they were in town to film Brewery McCloudThey brought her to director and producer Lou Adler and offered the awkward, overbite-faced 20-year-old a part in the film.

Duvall, who had never been outside of Texas, initially turned them down, but then agreed to do a screen test. “I got tired of arguing and thought, ‘Maybe I’ll be an actress,'” she said.

Shelley Duvall

Her CV would go on to record F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Bernice cuts her hair (1976) for PBS, Frankenweed (1984), Changing habits (1997), Homemade fries (1998), Jan from Campion The portrait of a lady (1996), Suburban Command (1991) and, in her last acting appearance for a while, Manna from Heaven (2002).

In 1981, Duvall recorded Good nightan album of music for children, and a year later Showtime bought her pitch, resulting in 26 episodes of the Peabody Award-winning Fairy Story Theaterof which she was the executive producer, commentary and contributor.

Three years later she created Great stories and legendsan hour-long series, also for Showtime, featuring adaptations of American folk tales.

In both shows Duvall was convincing A-list stars like Williams, Teri GarrEric Idle, Jeff Bridges, Mick JaggerLiza Minnelle and Vanessa Redgrave to work at scale. Both series were also big sellers on video.

In 1987 she launched Think Entertainment, which specialized in family entertainment such as Bedtime Stories by Shelley Duvall (including Bette) MiddleMichael J. Fox and Dudley Moore reciting classic children’s books) and Mrs. Pig-Wiggleand she produced television films including ABC’s Backfield in motionstarring Roseanne and Tom Arnold.

Duvall married Sampson during the filming of Brewery McCloudbut they divorced after four years in 1974, shortly after arriving in Los Angeles.

She later had a relationship with musician Paul Simon, whom she met in New York around the time of her marriage. Annie Hall (He also had a cameo in the film.) They lived together on Central Park West until he left her for her friend, Carrie Fisher. (She said he broke the news to her as she was about to board the Concorde to London to work on The shining(and she cried the whole flight.)

Duvall also lived with Stan Wilson, who played Oscar the barber in Popeyebefore meeting singer-drummer Dan Gilroy, a member of the pop group Breakfast Club who was previously Madonna’s boyfriend.

She and Gilroy fell in love after starring in the 1990 Disney Channel movie Mother Goose Rock ‘n’ RhymeHer brothers Scott, Stewart and Shane also leave behind the drama.

Seth Abramovitch contributed to this report.

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