SANTA MONICA—Oscar-nominated actress Karen Black, known for her roles in “Easy Rider” and “Five Easy Pieces,” passed away on August 8. She was 74.
Her husband, Stephen Eckelberry, confirmed her passing on Facebook: “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.”
The news arrived a day after Eckelberry wrote on the actress' blog about her rapidly deteriorating condition in recent months, following a battle with cancer for more than two years. Black was diagnosed with ampullary cancer in November 2010. Recently, the cancer had spread across her spine and back, and as a result, the actress was bed-bound and in an unpredictable state.
Black began her career as an off-Broadway actress before making an acclaimed debut on Broadway in “The Playroom” in 1965. Following years of acquiring television roles, she became a star upon the release of "Easy Rider" four years later. She received an Oscar nomination for her role as Rayette in “Five Easy Pieces” (1970); she won the Golden Globe for the same film.
The critically respected actress often appeared as characters that many deemed as countercultural. Her portrayal of a prostitute who takes LSD in "Easy Rider" captured the moniker vividly, and she subsequently went on to portray numerous women on the verge of physical and psychological collapse. Throughout her decades in acting, Black had maintained a presence in the industry playing quirky, strong-willed characters.
She also appeared in “The Great Gatsby” (the 1974 version; she won another Golden Globe for that performance), Hitchcock's “Family Plot,” “Come Back to The Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” the TV film “Trilogy of Terror” and “
Nashville” (she wrote and performed songs for the film).
“I have given up predicting what is going to happen to Karen,” Eckelberry wrote on August 7 on the actress' blog.
“In June family members flew in fearing the worse, but Karen is still here. You look at the scans, they tell you one thing, then you meet Karen, and what you are left with is how amazingly alive she is. Maybe it's her belief system, maybe it's because she was never one to tune out with drugs in her life, but mostly it's her innate character. She can't help but take life head-on and be completely engaged in the moment, always interested, always curious, always present.”
Black is survived by Eckelberry, a son and a daughter.