A late-blooming star who earned an Academy Award for her compelling portrayal of the cold-blooded Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has passed away at age 88.
According to her agent, David Shaul, who spoke to The Associated Press on Friday, Fletcher died peacefully in her sleep at her home in Montdurausse, France. The reason was not given.
Fletcher was in her early 40s and relatively unknown when filmmaker Milos Forman chose her for the role opposite Jack Nicholson in the 1975 movie. Forman had appreciated her work in director Robert Altman’s “Thieves Like Us” the year before.
She was unaware that other well-known actors had declined, including Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, and Angela Lansbury. In a 2004 interview, she said, “I was the last person cast.” “I didn’t realise the part had been offered to other actresses who didn’t want to look so bad on screen until we were halfway through shooting.”
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” became the first film to win best picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay in the same year since 1934’s “It Happened One Night.”
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.” There was silence for a moment, then roaring applause.
Later that night, Forman remarked to Fletcher and her co-star, Jack Nicholson, “Now we’re all going to be huge flops.” Following that, Forman directed the film adaptation of the popular Broadway musical “Hair,” which fell short of the stage production’s appeal.
One of Nicholson’s poorest movies, “Goin’ South,” was his directorial debut and acting debut. Fletcher agreed to work on the poorly thought sequel to the iconic first film, “Exorcist II: The Heretic.”
Fletcher’s age made it far more difficult for her to land significant roles in Hollywood than it did for her male counterparts. She continued to work nonstop for the remainder of her life. Following “Cuckoo’s Nest,” she appeared in “Mama Dracula,” “Dead Kids,” and “The Boy Who Could Fly.”
She received Emmy nominations for her roles in “Joan of Arcadia,” “Picket Fences,” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” as well as for her recurring role as Kai Winn Adami, the leader of the Bajoran faith. She played the mother of the Carpenters in 1989’s “The Karen Carpenter Story.”
Her height also hindered Fletcher’s career. She was frequently turned down from auditions because she was too short compared to her starring male at 5-feet-10. Fletcher relocated to Los Angeles after receiving her degree from North Carolina State University to begin her acting career.
She started obtaining one-day roles on TV shows like “Wagon Train,” “77 Sunset Strip” and “The Untouchables” while working as a doctor’s receptionist during the day and training at night with renowned actor and teacher Jeff Corey.
Early in the 1960s, Fletcher married the producer Jerry Bick, and she quickly had two kids. She postponed her career to stay home with her children and didn’t work for 11 years. “I made a choice to stop working, but I didn’t see it as a choice,” she said in the 2004 interview. “I felt compelled to stay at home.”
Bick passed away in 2004 after she divorced him in 1977. The movie “Cuckoo’s Nest” is based on Ken Kesey’s book that he wrote while participating in an experimental LSD program.
Nicholson plays a daring, small-time criminal named R.P. McMurphy who poses as insane to be moved from prison to a mental institution where he won’t have to put in as much effort.
After being imprisoned, McMurphy discovers that the mental ward is run by Fletcher’s stern, commanding Nurse Mildred Ratched, who strictly controls her patients. As the two clash, Ratched and the institution where she restores order impose harsh punishment on McMurphy, giving him the upper hand in the neighbourhood.
The character was so well-known that “Ratched,” a Netflix comedy, was based on her 45 years later. Estelle Louise Fletcher, the second of four children, was born in Birmingham on July 22, 1934. Her father was a travelling Episcopal clergyman who lost his hearing when she was four years old due to a lightning strike, and her mother was born deaf.
“It was like having parents who are immigrants who don’t speak your language,” she said in 1982. The Fletcher kids resided in Bryant, Texas, with their aunt for a year, and she assisted out. She also taught them how to sing, dance, read, write and speak.
This more recent research persuaded Fletcher that she should take action. She once claimed that watching the Ginger Rogers film “Lady in the Dark” further fueled her creative fire.
Louise Fletcher has passed away. The Academy Award winner was 88. https://t.co/EauUSbqO70
— Alan Katzmann (@Katzo60) September 24, 2022
That and other films, according to Fletcher, taught her that “if you wanted it bad enough, your dream could become a reality.” “I knew from the movies that I wouldn’t have to stay in Birmingham and be like everyone else,” she’d say. The deadline was the first to break the news of Fletcher’s death. John and Andrew Bick, her two sons, are still alive.
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