Prolific actress Karen Black, a favorite of gay film buffs for her performances in movies such as the beloved camp disaster flick Airport ’75 and the Southern-fried drama Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean, has died of cancer at age 74.
Throughout her more than five decades in show business, Black starred in more than 100 films and worked with a veritable who’s who of Hollywood legends, including Alfred Hitchcock, Jack Nicholson, Cher, Bette Davis, Robert Altman, Gloria Swanson, Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Black received an Academy Award nomination as best supporting actress for 1970’s Five Easy Pieces. One of her most memorable roles came in the 1975 TV film Trilogy of Terror, in which she played four characters, one of whom is tormented by a fetish doll come to life. The movie has retained a devoted cult following.
Among her most notable achievements, however, is what’s perhaps the first performance by a major Hollywood star as a transgender person in the 1982 film adaptation of the Broadway play Come Back to the Five and Dime… a role she also played on the New York stage.
Last March, Black’s husband Stephen Eckelberry launched a Go Fund Me page to help raise funds for her treatment. Black’s health had begun to rapidly deteriorate in recent weeks. Eckelberry announced the news of his wife’s death on his Facebook page today, saying “It is with great sadness that I have to report that my wife and best friend, Karen Black has just passed away, only a few minutes ago. Thank you all for all your prayers and love, they meant so much to her as they did to me.”
Watch Black in scenes from Come Back to the Five and Dime… below.