Karen Black (July 1, 1939 – August 8, 2013) was an American actress, screenwriter, singer, and songwriter. She is noted for appearing in such films as Easy RiderFive Easy PiecesThe Great Gatsby,RhinocerosThe Day of the LocustNashvilleAirport 1975, and Alfred Hitchcock's final film, Family Plot. Over the course of her career, she won two Golden Globe Awards (out of three nominations), and an Academy Award nomination in 1970 for Best Supporting Actress, among numerous other honors.

Early lifeEdit

Black was born as Karen Blanche Ziegler in Park Ridge, Illinois, in suburban Chicago, the daughter of Elsie Mary (née Reif), a writer of several prize-winning children's novels, and Norman Arthur Ziegler. Her paternal grandfather was Arthur Charles Ziegler, a classical musician and first violinist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Her sister is actress Gail Brown. Black is of German, Bohemian (Czech), and Norwegian descent. She attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, for two years, having commenced university studies in 1954, aged 15.[5] She then moved to New York where she appeared in a number of Off-Broadway productions.


Black (who took that name from her first husband, Charles Black) began her film career in 1959 with a small role in The Prime Time. She appeared in Season 1, episode 10 (Log 132-The Producer) of the 1968 television series Adam-12 as a girl named Susan Decker. She wrote and sang the theme song and supporting songs for The Pyx (1973). In 1970, Black appeared as Rayette, the waitress girlfriend of Jack Nicholson, in the film Five Easy Pieces, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.

She starred as Nancy Pryor, the stewardess who is forced to fly the plane, in the 1974 disaster film Airport 1975. That same year, she played multiple roles in the televised anthology filmTrilogy of Terror. The segments, all written by suspense writer Richard Matheson, were named after the women involved in the plot: a plain college professor who seduces a student ("Julie"), a pair of sisters who squabble over their father's inheritance ("Millicent and Therese"), and the lonely recipient of a cursed Zuni fetish that comes to life and pursues her relentlessly ("Amelia").

During the next two years, Black had leading roles for famed directors as an aspiring Hollywood actress in John Schlesinger's The Day of the Locust, as a country singer in Robert Altman'sNashville and as a kidnapper in what turned out to be Alfred Hitchcock's last film, Family Plot. She also co-starred with Bette Davis in a horror film, Burnt Offerings. In April 2009, Black reunited with director Steve Balderson for Stuck! – an homage to film noir women-in-prison dramas, which co-starred Mink StolePleasant Gehman and The Go-Go's Jane Wiedlin. Black stars also in John Landis' 2010 thriller, Some Guy Who Kills People. Later that year, Black appeared on Cass McCombs' song "Dreams-Come-True-Girl" from the album Catacombs.

Select filmographyEdit

Personal lifeEdit

Black married four times:

  • Charles Black, from 1955 to 1962.
  • Robert Burton, an actor (who appeared alongside Black in Trilogy of Terror, from April 18, 1973 to October 1974.
  • L. M. Kit Carson, an actor/screenwriter, on July 4, 1975. They had a son, actor Hunter Carson, and subsequently divorced.
  • Stephen Eckelberry, from September 27, 1987. They adopted a daughter, Celine. The couple were active Scientologists.

On August 8, 2013, Black died from ampullary cancer at the age of 74. Her husband, Stephen Eckelberry, posted the following on his Facebook page shortly after her death: "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."

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