The native of Alabama earned an Academy Award for his portrayal of a malevolent movie character. That speech she gave when she won will be long remembered.
Sweet Alabama native Louise Fletcher, who played one of cinema’s most despised villains, Nurse Ratched, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, received an Oscar for her performance. She lived to be 88 years old.
Her son Andrew Bick informed The Hollywood Reporter that Louise Fletcher died of natural causes on Friday at her home in Montdurausse, France. She had beaten breast cancer twice and was still going strong.
Louise Fletcher, the daughter of deaf parents (for which she gave one of the most moving acceptance speeches in Oscar history), also portrayed a psychiatrist in Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and appeared with Peter Falk and a slew of other stars in The Cheap Detective (1973).
Louise Fletcher dies at 88
Television roles include Kai Winn Adami on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and guest appearances on Picket Fences (1996) and Joan of Arcadia (2004), for which she was nominated for an Emmy.
She has featured in recent films and television shows, including the Liev Schreiber film A Perfect Man (2013) and the Britt Robertson Netflix series Girlboss.
After staying out of the spotlight for almost a decade to raise her two kids, Louise Fletcher made her Hollywood comeback in the Robert Altman picture Thieves Like Us, starring opposite Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall (1974).
Director Milos Forman saw her in that film and cast her in his 1975 adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel about life in an Oregon mental hospital, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
According to an interview Louise Fletcher gave in 2016, “he was watching it to look at Shelley Duvall to portray one of the females that arrives on the ward on the party night,” and there she was. “Who is that?” he demanded.
Anne Bancroft, Angela Lansbury, Geraldine Page, Colleen Dewhurst, and Ellen Burstyn all turned down the job of Nurse Ratched before Forman cast Teri Hatcher a year later because they thought she was too implausibly evil.
I tried out for it a bunch of times, she said. It didn’t occur to me that so many other women were saying no. Fortunately for me, many famous people were given it but rejected it. Oh, the horror if someone else had accepted!
As shown in the film, Ratched’s frigid demeanor is used to humiliate her patients and withdraw their privileges at will. She resorts to shock treatment and lobotomy on newcomer Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) when she is unable to keep him under control.
When Louise Fletcher first observed the audience’s reaction to the moment in Cuckoo’s Nest when McMurphy attempts to murder her character, she realized her life would never be the same.
It was in Chicago, and there was standing room only, she said. The crowd erupted in applause and yelling when he strangled her. Suddenly, he or she stood tall. It blew my mind. It made me really happy.
The American Film Institute ranked Nurse Ratched as the fifth-best villain of all time (2003), behind only Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Darth Vader, and the Wicked Witch of the West. (Sarah Paulson has just brought the role back to life in a Ryan Murphy Netflix prequel series.)
While on stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to receive her Oscar, Louise Fletcher said, “Well, it seems like you all disliked me so much that you’ve given me this award for it, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.” The presenter, Charles Bronson, had called her name. You’ve made my life so much more interesting, and all I can say is that I’ve enjoyed being despised by you.
Then, she used sign language to express gratitude to her parents: “And if you’ll forgive me: for my mother and father, I want to say thank you for teaching me to have a dream. This is the realization of a lifelong ambition of mine.
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On July 22, 1934, in Birmingham, Alabama, she was born to Reverend Robert C. Fletcher, an Episcopal clergyman, and his wife, Estelle. She was the second of four children. They were both born deaf, but different circumstances led to their hearing loss in childhood (he from a lightning strike, she from sickness).
Louise Fletcher said to The New York Times in 1975, “If I fell down and harmed myself, I never wept.” “No one was around to hear me.”
Due to her great shyness, her parents sent her to live with an aunt in Texas for many years until she moved back to Alabama to attend Ramsay High School in Birmingham and eventually the University of North Carolina, from which she graduated in 1957.
After visiting Los Angeles with her friends, she decided to remain and pursue an acting career, so she got a job as a receptionist and enrolled in lessons taught by renowned instructor Jeff Corey in the evenings. (Blake Roberts was a classmate.)
The 5-foot-10 actress made her film debut with Rock Hudson in A Gathering of Eagles (1963) after establishing herself on television dramas including Bat Masterson, Lawman, 77 Sunset Strip, Wagon Train, and Perry Mason.
She left the firm after having her first child, John, in 1961, and her second, Andrew, a year later. Her husband, literary agent Jerry Bick, produced films including Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973) and Thieves Like Us.
Louise Fletcher initially declined Altman’s offer to feature in Thieves Like Us because of her husband’s participation in the film.
Louise Fletcher attended group therapy sessions at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, where filming for Cuckoo’s Nest took place, to prepare for her part. During the filming of the movie, she was there for a total of eleven weeks.
She was so out of touch with her emotions that she had no pleasure in her life and no understanding of the possibility that she might be wrong, she said of Mildred Ratched in an interview with The New York Times. She was a cruel nurse who took care of her mad patients, but she was sure she was doing the right thing.
Her performance was deemed “masterful” by New Yorker critic Pauline Kael, and the film won the Academy Award for best director, picture, actor, and screenplay, making it only the third film in history to accomplish such a feat (the others being It Happened One Night (1934) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991)).
Louise Fletcher’s acting career never reached that level again.
Nashville (1975) was written for her to star in the role of Linnea, a gospel singer, and mother of two deaf children, but when she and her husband had a disagreement with director Robert Altman, Lily Tomlin was cast in the role instead (and an eventual supporting actress Oscar nom).
In addition to 1979’s The Lady in Red, Louise Fletcher’s filmography includes 1983’s Brainstorm, 1984’s Firestarter, 1986’s Invaders From Mars, 1987’s Flowers in the Attic, 1988’s Two Moon Junction, 1989’s Blue Steel, 1992’s The Player (which redeemed him in Altman’s eyes), 1995’s Virtuosity, 1996’s High School High, 1999’s Cruel Intentions, and 2000’s A Map (1999).
Louise Fletcher gained notoriety in the tabloids when her relationship with Morgan Mason, who is far younger than she is, made headlines after her divorce from Bick. (He was married to the singer Belinda Carlisle; his father was the British actor James Mason.)
Her boys and her sister Roberta are the only ones left to carry on the family name.
While Louise Fletcher will forever be identified with her role as Nurse Ratched, she said in 2012 that she could no longer watch Cuckoo’s Nest because of her iconic portrayal of the character. When asked about her brutal acting, she responded, “I was very surprised in those parts.”