Jill Clayburgh, one of the leading actresses of the ’70s and a two-time Oscar nominee, died on Friday at her home in Lakeville, Conn., according to the New York Times. She was 66. The cause was chronic leukemia, a disease she had lived with for more than 20 years, her husband, playwright David Rabe, told the paper.
Clayburgh, who had a thousand-watt smile that usually took a backseat to the mixed-up, high-strung characters she played onscreen, started her career on Broadway in the 1960s. But it was in the ’70s, when the women’s movement was reaching full bloom, that Clayburgh found her footing as one of Hollywood’s most electric and of-the-moment leading ladies. Although she had the comedy chops to keep up with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in 1976’s Silver Streak, Clayburgh’s greatest strength was inhabiting a new kind of woman — liberated, smart, sexual, and just a bit daffy. Take Paul Mazursky’s 1978 ‘Me Decade’ classic An Unmarried Woman. In that timely and topical comedy, Clayburgh tries to make sense of her life after her husband leaves her for another woman. She rightly received an Oscar nomination for the film, but lost to Jane Fonda for Coming Home.
The next year Clayburgh was nominated again. This time for 1979’s Starting Over, an unfortunately forgotten drama, again centering on divorce, in which she shines as a teacher who falls in love with a lonely and newly single man played by Burt Reynolds. Clayburgh’s other notable films include 1977’s Semi-Tough, 1981’s First Monday in October, 1983’s Hanna K., and 1986’s Where Are the Children? In 1999, Entertainment Weekly named Clayburgh one of Hollywood’s 25 Greatest Actresses. More recently, she was a regular on the ABC series Dirty Sexy Money and she will also soon be seen in the film Love and Other Drugs, in which she plays Jake Gyllenhaal’s mother.
Besides playwright David Rabe, whom she married in 1978, Clayburgh is survived by a daughter, actress Lily Rabe who is currently starring in the Broadway production of The Merchant of Venice opposite Al Pacino; a son, Michael; a stepson, Jason; and a brother, James.