R.I.P. Karen Black


I find myself much saddened (despite all sorts of inward protestations against the instinct) by the passing of Karen Black. What do I care about this person, whom I never met, whom I don’t know? This minor actress with a lazy eye whose peak of fame was almost 40 years ago?

But our lives are pinioned to moments, they are built on memories, they are formed by impressions, they are redirected by images. And so I think of her and I think of a time in my own life, my own childhood, which really has nothing to do with her…except for the hours spent watching her onscreen, and being emotionally affected by her (often absurd, over the top) travails. High on my list is probably the first thing I ever saw her in, as the beleaguered but brave stewardess in Airport 1975, with Black gamely playing an almost unplayable role in the most unbelievable of situations. This would be neck in neck with her multiple performances in Trilogy of Terror (1975), followed by Hitchcock’s Family Plot (1976) and that other great 70s horror classic Burnt Offerings (1976) where she becomes possessed by a very possessive ghost. Other cool stuff I discovered later: I was too young for Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces when they came out, and Day of the Locust was a sleeper in its day, although it’s an incredible, bizarre movie — you should see it.

But above all, there’s this, one of my favorite parts of one of my favorite films, Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975), a song Black wrote herself and which ALWAYS stays in my head for days after I watch the film, every time I watch it. It’s putting a lump in my throat today for reasons I have been inept at articulating. I could only find the audio online, you’ll have to watch the film to see her perform it as fictional country singer Connie White.


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