According to a representative, Louise Fletcher passed away on Friday at her home in France.
She was most known for her iconic portrayal of Nurse Ratched in Milos Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” for which she won the Oscar for best actress. She was 88.
The iconic movie, which was adapted from a novel by Ken Kesey and focused on the patients and personnel of a mental hospital, won five Oscars in 1976, including best picture and best actor for Jack Nicholson.
For the first time in more than 40 years, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” won the main awards for best picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay. It was also a big box office success and received four additional Oscar nominations.
Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched was ranked as the second-greatest villain in movie history, just after the Wicked Witch of the West, in the American Film Institute TV special “AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes & Villains.”
Ironically, the script softened the Ratched character compared to Kesey’s original, and Fletcher gave a more understated performance, frequently expressing the character’s feelings through simple facial expressions, which is why she originally deserved her Oscar. In fact, the actress succeeds in making us feel sad for Ratched at a number of crucial points in the movie.
Roger Ebert stated in a 2003 review of “Cuckoo’s Nest” that despite winning the Oscar, Fletcher’s performance “is not enough recognized. This might be the case given how profoundly despicable Nurse Ratched is, as well as how totally we have all been conditioned to fear attributes in a particular type of female authority figure—a woman who has sublimated sexuality and humanity into duty and morality.
However, one could argue that the actress’s portrayal of Nurse Ratched and the Oscar she received for it ultimately did Fletcher more harm than good: “Fletcher should talk to her agent about these clichéd ‘evil’ roles, in which she has gotten increasingly monotonous,” a frustrated and uncaring Washington Post writer wrote in a review of the 1987 horror movie “Flowers in the Attic,” in which the actress featured.
But it’s possible that Fletcher begged her agency in vain for a wider range of assignments.
A Perfect Man,” a 2013 film starring Liev Schreiber and Jeanne Tripplehorn, was her most recent film role.
On television, Fletcher had portrayed family matriarch Peggy “Grammy” Gallagher on Showtime’s “Shameless,” a crafty ex-con who nevertheless desired a relationship with her grandkids. The actress appeared in reruns of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” from 1993 to 1999 as the cunning, deceitful spiritual leader Winn Adami, “VR.5” from 1995 to 1997, and “ER” in 2005.
For her guest appearances on “Picket Fences” in 1996 and “Joan of Arcadia” in 2004, she received Emmy nominations.
After spending more than a decade raising a family, Fletcher returned to acting in 1974 and had a supporting performance in Robert Altman’s “Thieves Like Us” that Pauline Kael praised as “impressively forceful.” However, the actress had little notoriety in Hollywood when she was cast as Ratched.
Because they were concerned about the potential impact on their careers, Angela Lansbury, Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Colleen Dewhurst, and Geraldine Page all declined the role of Ratched.
Fletcher was accidentally spotted by director Milos Forman in “Thieves Like Us.”
Forman subsequently remarked in his memoir, “She was all wrong for the [Ratched] character, yet there was something about her. When I asked her to read with me, I unexpectedly found a toughness and willpower hidden beneath the velvety appearance that looked perfect for the part.
Fortunately, there were some chances to avoid being stereotyped.
She performed admirably in Peter Falk’s noir spoof from 1978, “The Cheap Detective.”
She co-starred with Hal Holbrook in the 1979 drama “Natural Enemies,” portraying a husband who kills his family. Fletcher is “very good playing the polar opposite of her Nurse Ratched role,” according to critic Richard Winters. Instead of being strict and authoritarian, she is here more frail and weak. She even appears as a prisoner inside a mental hospital. She is a fantastic actress, as evidenced by the fact that she can convincingly portray so many distinct roles.
She portrayed a jovial, kind-hearted Long Island aristocrat in the 1999 film “Cruel Intentions.”
Exorcist II: The Heretic, starring Richard Burton and Linda Blair; Brainstorm, a science fiction movie starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood; Firestarter, starring a young Drew Barrymore; and “2 Days in the Valley” are some of the other movies which they have contributed.
Birmingham, Alabama, is the city where Estelle Louise Fletcher was born. Her parents were hard of hearing; the aunt who had helped her learn to talk at the age of 8 introduced her to acting. After traveling cross-country, Fletcher, a University of North Carolina student, was stuck in Los Angeles where she stumbled into acting.
In 1958, the young actress debuted on television when she made appearances on “Playhouse 90,” among other programs. She appeared as a guest on “Maverick,” “77 Sunset Strip,” and “The Untouchables” the following year. She made two appearances on “Perry Mason” in 1960, but by 1963, after making her feature film debut in “A Gathering of Eagles,” she had given up on acting, at least temporarily.
After caring for her children, she returned to her career in 1973 by making a cameo appearance on “Medical Center.” She was cast in a supporting role in “Thieves Like Us,” a film her husband, Jerry Bick, was producing, after acting in a TV movie.
Fletcher was scheduled to play the role when Bick and Altman fell out, and his personal story served as inspiration for one of the key characters in Robert Altman’s iconic 1975 movie “Nashville.”
From 1959 through 1978, Fletcher was wed to Bick, a Hollywood literary agent who subsequently became a producer. 2004 saw his passing. Her sons John Dashiell Bick and Andrew Wilson Bick are the only ones left behind.