Oscar winner Louise Fletcher, known for her iconic portrayal of evil Nurse Ratched in the 1975 hit One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, died Friday of natural causes at 88.
Andrew Bick, her son, confirmed to THR that Fletcher died at her Montdurausse, France, home.
Fletcher was born on July 22, 1934, in Birmingham, Alabama. From the late '50s into the 1960s, she was a busy working actress including on such series as Flight (1958) and Playhouse 90 (1958).
Of her appearances on many westerns, like Bat Masterson (1958), Yancy Derringer (1959), Lawman (1959), Maverick (1959) and Wagon Train (1959 & 1960), she said her height — 5'10" — made casting directors feel she wasn't appropriate as a female lead, but that the male stars of westerns were generally so tall she was suitable for them.
After working on other shows, including classics like 77 Sunset Strip (1959) and Perry Mason (twice in 1960), she made her film debut in 1963's A Gathering of Eagles, a Rock Hudson Cold War drama, then abruptly left the industry to raise a family with literary agent Jerry Bick.
Ten years later, Fletcher eased back into work, first with an appearance on TV's Medical Center (1973) and then in the TV movie Can Ellen Be Saved? (1974).
These were mere warm-ups for what was to come. A fateful turn in Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us (1974) — her husband was a producer — caught the eye of Milos Forman, who was casting a wicked-nurse role in what would become his Oscar-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). Altman had made offers to a who's-who of established actresses — Geraldine Page, Colleen Dewhurst, Angela Lansbury, Ellen Burstyn, Anne Bancroft — but he saw something in Fletcher, and put her through the ringer, requiring her to test many times before she won the career-transforming role.
“I tried out for it many, many times,” Fletcher said. “I didn’t realize that lots of other women were turning it down. They offered it to many movie stars who declined, luckily for me. To think, what if somebody else had said yes?”
In the film, Nurse Ratched controls a sanitarium with an iron fist, remaining at odds with an inmate played by Jack Nicholson. So vicious was her portrayal that when Nicholson's character gets violent with her, audiences cheered. So did critics, and Fletcher won the Oscar for what has become one of the most famous portrayals of a villain in silver-screen history.
Winning Oscar gold, Fletcher — a child of deaf parents — made history by incorporating ASL into her touching acceptance speech.
Fellow Oscar winner (and co-star) Marlee Matlin, who starred in last year's CODA, remembered her on Twitter, writing, "Sad to read of the passing of Louise Fletcher. Brilliant actress & Academy Award winner, I remember her as the daughter of Deaf parents (CODA) who was the FIRST to sign her acceptance speech at the Oscars. And she was so lovely as my mother on 'Picket Fences.' RIP dear Louise."
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was one of just three films to win Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay, along with It Happened One Night (1934) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
A steady talent, Fletcher nonetheless never found a regular place in award-worthy fare after Cuckoo, even with a string of assured performances in mostly subpar vehicles. She missed out on the Lily Tomlin role in Altman's Nashville (1975) after disagreeing with the director.
Among her most high-profile films were Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), The Cheap Detective (1978), Strange Invaders (1983), Brainstorm (1983), Firestarter (1984), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Flowers in the Attic (1987), Two Moon Junction (1988), Blue Steel (1990), The Player (1992), Mulholland Falls (1996), Cruel Intentions (1999), A Map of the World (1999) and A Perfect Man (2013).
On TV, Fletcher was on over a dozen episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) and recurred on Shameless (2011-2012).
Fletcher and Bick divorced, and she was involved in a high-profile romance with Morgan Mason, British actor James Mason's son who later wed Belinda Carlisle.
She is survived by her sons and by her sister, Roberta.