Karen Black, Strange And Lovely, And Always Game Karen Black parlayed her strange and singular allure into quirky character roles that in many ways captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s and '70s.

Karen Black, Strange And Lovely, And Always Game

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And also from the '70, actress Karen Black was a counter-culture darling then who went on to become queen of kitschy horror movies. She died this week in Los Angeles at the age of 74. NPR's Mandalit Del Barco has this appreciation.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: With a wide, sly smile and eyes that were slightly off-kilter, Karen Black was oddly alluring, says her friend Peter Fonda.

PETER FONDA: She wasn't a conventional-looking woman. And she took that unconventional look and made it interesting and made you want to see more of it.

DEL BARCO: On screen, Black played quirky character roles that in many ways captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s and '70s. She starred in some of the most important movies of those decades, at a time when American independent film was becoming a real artistic and commercial force.


DEL BARCO: Her breakthrough was with Fonda in the 1969 classic "Easy Rider." She played a New Orleans prostitute who drops LSD with him and Dennis Hopper. Their cemetery acid trip was disturbing and unforgettable.


KAREN BLACK: (as Karen) I can feel the outside, but I can't feel the inside. OK?

DEL BARCO: That wild scene, shot on grainy 16 mm film, was edited down from 16 hours of improvised footage, says Fonda.

FONDA: She was great at improvisation. She just was fabulous at improvisation. She was always pushing the limits. And it was thrilling to see. She had the highest octane.

DEL BARCO: Black also impressed Jack Nicholson and director Bob Rafelson, who cast her in the 1978 film "Five Easy Pieces." She played a naive waitress devoted to an alienated, upper-class dropout played by Nicholson.


BLACK: (as Rayette Dipesto) You know, I'll go out with you or I'll stay in with you. Or I'll do anything that you'd like for me to do if you would tell me that you love me.

DEL BARCO: Her portrayal of Rayette Dipesto won her an Oscar nomination, a Golden Globe and a New York Film Critics Circle award. Black was often cast as the doomed girlfriend, as she was in the 1974 version of "The Great Gatsby." Later, she put her uncanny stillness and striking bone structure to work as a tragic transgender woman in "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean."


BLACK: (as Joanne) I'm not Jo, Sissy. I'm Joanne.

CHER: (as Sissy) What do you mean?

BLACK: (as Joanne) Joanne. I mean that unlike apparently all of you, I have undergone a change.

DEL BARCO: When disaster films were all the rage, Black played a stewardess in "Airport 1975." She was a femme fatale jewel thief in Alfred Hitchcock's final film and a country music singer in Robert Altman's "Nashville." She even earned a Grammy nomination for two songs she wrote and performed in the movie.


BLACK: (as Connie White) (Singing) You walked me sweet Joshua down the country lane. You brought me sweet Joshua where the roses grow so tall.

DEL BARCO: In the 1980s, Black specialized in thrillers and horror movies, most notably as a single New York woman attacked by a hilariously creepy fetish doll in the TV movie "Trilogy of Terror."


DEL BARCO: Fellow actor Peter Fonda says Black was up for anything.

FONDA: She managed to play cookie. She managed to play sexy. She managed to play crazed. She managed to play all the different ways of human nature.

DEL BARCO: Karen Black died on Thursday after a long battle with cancer. Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.

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