Oscar-winning actress Louise Fletcher has died

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Louise Fletcher, a late-blooming star whose riveting performance as the cruel and calculating Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” set a new standard for screen villains and earned her a Oscar, died aged 88.

Fletcher died in her sleep surrounded by her family at her home in Montdurausse, France, her agent David Shaul told The Associated Press on Friday. No reason was given.

After putting her career on hold for years to raise her children, Fletcher was in her 40s and little known when she was cast opposite Jack Nicholson in the 1975 film by director Milos Forman, who had admired her work. the previous year to director Robert. Thieves Like Us by Altman. At the time, she was unaware that many other prominent stars, including Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn and Angela Lansbury, had turned it down.

“I was the last person cast,” she recalled in a 2004 interview. “It wasn’t until we were halfway through filming that I realized the role had been offered to other actresses who didn’t want to appear so horrible on screen.”

Holding her Oscar at the 1976 ceremony, Fletcher told the audience, “It seems like you all hated me.”

She then addressed her deaf parents in Birmingham, Alabama, speaking and using sign language: “I want to thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You see my dream come true.”

A minute’s silence was followed by thunderous applause.

Later that night, Foreman made the unpleasant comment to Fletcher and her co-star Jack Nicholson: “Now we’re all going to be terrible failures.”

In the short term, at least, he was right.

Foreman next directed “Hair,” the film version of the hit Broadway musical that failed to capture the appeal of the stage version. Nicholson directed and starred in “Goin’ South,” generally considered one of his worst films. Fletcher signed on for “Exorcist II: The Heretic,” a botched sequel to the groundbreaking original.

Much more so than her male peers, Fletcher found it difficult due to her age to find major roles in Hollywood. However, she worked continuously for most of the rest of her life. Her post-Cuckoo’s Nest films included Mama Dracula, Dead Kids and The Boy Who Could Fly.

She was nominated for an Emmy for her roles on the TV series “Joan of Arcadia” and “Picket Fences” and had a recurring role as Bajoran religious leader Kai Winn Adami on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” She played the mother of musical duo the Carpenters in 1989’s “The Karen Carpenter Story.”

Fletcher’s career was also hampered by her height. At 5-foot-10, she was often dismissed from an audition immediately because she was taller than her lead.

Fletcher had moved to Los Angeles to begin her acting career immediately after graduating from North Carolina State University.

Working as a doctor’s receptionist by day and studying at night with famed actor and teacher Jeff Corey, she began landing day jobs on TV series such as ‘Wagon Train’, ’77 Sunset Strip’ and ‘The Untouchables’.

Fletcher married producer Jerry Beek in the early 1960s and gave birth to two sons in quick succession. She decided to put her career on hold to become a stay-at-home mom and didn’t work for 11 years.

“I made the choice to stop working, but I didn’t see it as an option,” he said in the 2004 interview. “I felt compelled to stay at home.”

She divorced Bick in 1977 and died in 2004.

In “Cuckoo’s Nest,” based on the novel Ken Kesey wrote while participating in an experimental LSD program, Nicholson’s character, RP McMurphy, is a sleazy, small-time criminal who feigns insanity in order to be transferred from prison to a mental institution where he will not need to work so hard.

Once established, McMurphy discovers that his psych ward is run by Fletcher’s cold, imposing nurse Mildred Ratched, who keeps her patients firmly under her thumb. As the two clash, McMurphy takes over the ward with his courage, leading to severe punishment from Ratchet and the institution, where he restores order.

The character was so memorable that it would become the basis for a Netflix series, “Ratched,” 45 years later.

Estelle Louise Fletcher was born the second of four children on 22 July 1934 in Birmingham. Her mother was born deaf and her father was an itinerant Episcopal minister who lost his hearing when he was struck by lightning at the age of 4.

“It was like having immigrant parents who don’t speak your language,” he said in 1982.

The Fletcher children were helped by their aunt, with whom they lived in Bryant, Texas for a year. He taught them reading, writing and speaking, as well as how to sing and dance.

It was these latter studies that convinced Fletcher that she wanted to act. He was further inspired, he once said, when he saw the movie “Lady in the Dark” with Ginger Rogers.

That and other films, Fletcher said, taught her “your dream could become real life if you wanted it bad enough.”

“I knew from the movies,” he said, “that I shouldn’t stay in Birmingham and be like everyone else.”

Fletcher’s death was first reported by Deadline.

She is survived by her two sons, John and Andrew Bick;

The late AP Entertainment writer Bob Thomas contributed biographical material to this report.

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