Shirley Knight, prolific Oscar-nominated actress of stage and screen, dies at 83
Shirley Knight, the prolific stage and screen actress and two-time Oscar nominee whose career spanned six decades, has died. She was 83. According to her daughter Kaitlin Hopkins, Knight died of natural causes on Wednesday at Hopkins' home in San Marcos, Texas.
Knight's career spanned everything from Tennessee Williams to an Emmy-nominated turn on Desperate Housewives to Paul Blart: Mall Cop and its sequel, with the actress appearing consistently on stage and in film and television from her 1958 screen debut to 2018. In that time, Knight earned a Tony, three Emmys, and two Best Supporting Actress Oscar nods — for 1960's The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and 1962's Sweet Bird of Youth, both based on acclaimed stage plays — on top of numerous other awards and nominations.
Born in Kansas in 1936, Knight was known for taking daring chances as an actress, both in the roles she took and in her career choices. In 1964, she left Hollywood to study at New York's prestigious Actors Studio. "When I was doing Sweet Bird of Youth, Geraldine Page and Paul [Newman], and the whole cast were so experienced. I felt like there’s something they knew that I didn't know," Knight said in a 2014 interview. "Paul said to me, 'It might be helpful to you to come to New York to study with Lee Strasberg.' So I did."
In New York, Knight earned acclaim for her stage work, winning a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play in 1976 for Kennedy's Children. That same year, she played Blanche DuBois in a Princeton, N.J. production of A Streetcar Named Desire, purportedly winning the favor of the drama's legendary playwright.
"I was absolutely born to play that role. Tennessee came backstage and said, 'Finally, I have my Blanche. My perfect Blanche,'" Knight said in a 2010 interview.
In later years, Knight's film and TV credits included As Good As It Gets, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Law & Order, House, and many more. She won two Emmys in 1995 — Outstanding Guest Actress for NYPD Blue and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for HBO's Indictment — and another in 1988, for her guest role on Thirtysomething. She earned another five nominations throughout her career, including for her turn as Phyllis Van De Kamp, the mother-in-law of Marcia Cross' Bree, on Desperate Housewives.
Knight married actor and producer Gene Persson in 1959. They had one child together, Kaitlin Hopkins, before divorcing in 1969. She remarried, to British playwright John Hopkins, with whom she had another daughter, Sophie. The couple remained married until Hopkins' death in 1998.