LOS ANGELES (AP) — Louise Fletcher, a late-blooming star whose mesmerizing performance as the cruel, calculating Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” set a new standard for screen villains and is win an Academy Award, has died at 88.
Fletcher died in her sleep surrounded by family at her home in Montdurausse, France, her agent David Shaul told The Associated Press on Friday. No cause was given.
After putting her career on hold for years to raise her children, Fletcher was 40 and little known when she was cast opposite Jack Nicholson in the 1975 film by director Milos Forman, who had admired the his work the year before director Robert. “Thieves Like Us” by Altman. Little did she know at the time that many other prominent stars, including Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn and Angela Lansbury, had turned her down.
“I was the last person cast,” she recalled in a 2004 interview. screen”.
Accepting his Oscar at the 1976 ceremony, Fletcher told the audience, “It looks like you all hate me.”
He then addressed his deaf parents in Birmingham, Alabama, speaking and using sign language: “I want to thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You’re seeing my dream come true.”
A moment of silence was followed by thunderous applause.
Later that night, Forman made the tongue-in-cheek remark to Fletcher and his co-star, Jack Nicholson, “Now we’re all going to make tremendous mistakes.”
In the short term, at least, he was right.
Forman then 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,” an ill-conceived sequel to the original original.
Much more than her male peers, Fletcher was hindered by her age from finding major roles in Hollywood. Even so, he worked continuously for most of the rest of his life. His post-Cuckoo’s Nest films include Mama Dracula, Dead Kids and The Boy Who Could Fly.
She was nominated for Emmys for her guest 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 his height. At 5-foot-10, she was often dismissed from an audition immediately because she was taller than her leading man.
Fletcher had moved to Los Angeles to begin her acting career shortly 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 television series such as “Wagon Train,” “77 Sunset Strip” and ” The Untouchables”.
Fletcher married producer Jerry Bick in the early 1960s and gave birth to two children in quick succession. She decided to put her career on hold to be a stay-at-home mom and didn’t work for 11 years.
“I decided 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 he died in 2004.
In “Cuckoo’s Nest,” based on the novel Ken Kesey wrote while in an experimental LSD program, Nicholson’s character, RP McMurphy, is a swaggering, petty criminal who feigns insanity in order to be transferred from prison to a mental institution he goes to won’t have to work as hard.
Once institutionalized, McMurphy discovers that his mental ward is run by Fletcher’s cold and imposing nurse Mildred Ratched, who keeps her patients under her thumb. As the two face off, McMurphy nearly takes over the room with his bravado, prompting a harsh punishment from Ratched and the institution, where she restores order.
The character was so memorable that it would become the basis of a Netflix series, “Ratched,” 45 years later.
Estelle Louise Fletcher was born the second of four children on 22 July 1934 in Birmingham. His mother was born deaf and his father was an itinerant Episcopalian 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 to read, write and speak as well as sing and dance.
It was these latter studies that convinced Fletcher that he 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 him that “your dream could become a 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.
He is survived by his two sons, John and Andrew Bick.
The late AP Entertainment writer Bob Thomas contributed biographical material to this report.