Lisa Spoonauer, the actress best known for portraying Dante’s (Brian O’Halloran) high school girlfriend Caitlin Bree in Clerks, has died. She was 44.
Director Kevin Smith, who discovered Spoonauer in a community college acting class, announced the news on his Instagram account on Tuesday. “Devastated to report that #LisaSpoonauer, who played Caitlin in #clerks, has passed away,” he wrote.
Spoonauer reprised the role as a voice actor in the 2001 animated series of the same name, and appeared in only one other film, Gabe Torres’ Bartender, before ending her acting career. She went on to become a restaurant manager and event planner, according to an obituary posted by a New Jersey funeral home.
In his tribute, Smith called Spoonauer “one of the most important people [he’d] ever meet” and credited her as being one of the “chief architects” of his debut feature, which was shot in the convenience and video stores where he worked as a clerk. He described how he found her when he was casting Clerks. “In 1992, I went looking for Lisa without knowing either who she was or the integral role she’d play in my life,” he wrote. “I popped into an acting class at Brookdale Community College and watched the students from the back. Lisa was easily the most natural and authentic voice in the room. She didn’t sound like she was acting at all; she delivered scripted dialogue as if she was inventing her conversation in the moment, like people do in real life. Captivated, I approached Lisa cold in the parking lot after the class and said, ‘This is gonna sound creepy but… Do you wanna be in a movie?’ Fearlessly, she replied, ‘Not if it’s porn.’ I told her a bit about Clerks and gave her a copy of the script and my phone number. She called me a few days later and said ‘Well it’s not porn, but everybody talks like it is. It’s funny. I’ll do it.'”
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Smith recounted rehearsing for a month in the video store where they would shoot, remembering how Spoonauer perfected her character, and praised her professionalism and skills as an actress, writing, “The first night of the shoot, Lisa had to maneuver her way through a seven minute scene with Brian in the video store, when Caitlin finally shows up in the movie. Lisa and Brian CRUSHED it in one long take that still remains one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever shot – not because it shows off any directorial flare (it doesn’t) but because it exemplified how great the performers were since we never had to cut away from their 2-shot.”
Smith also praised her role as a mother, writing, “As strong an actress as she was, Lisa was an even more excellent Mother to her daughter Mia. Whenever we’d Facebook later in life, she’d gush about her baby girl proudly. My heart goes out to Tom, Mia and Lisa’s family. Thank you for dreaming my dream with me. You changed my life, Lisa.”
Spoonauer, whose cause of death was not announced, is survived by her husband, Tom Caron; her daughter, Mia Spoonauer; and her stepson, Tyler Caron.