Actress Jill Clayburgh, best known for portrayals of women in the throes of crisis, including the 1978 film “An Unmarried Woman,” for which she was nominated for an Oscar, has died at 66.
Clayburgh died at her Lakeville, Conn., home from chronic leukemia, a disease first diagnosed more than 20 years ago, her husband, the playwright David Rabe, said in a statement.
The actress’s daughter, Lily Rabe, will miss the next several performances of her new play The Merchant of Venice, with Al Pacino, because of the death.
The official press opening night was scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 7. A rep for the production says Nov. 15 will now be press night. Rabe’s understudy, Kim Martin-Cotten, will perform the role of Portia for the Sunday performance and through the week.
Clayburgh began her career on Broadway and films in the 1960s.
Her Broadway debut in 1968’s The Sudden & Accidental Re-Education of Horse Johnson, with Jack Klugman, closed after five shows.
She also appeared in 1970’s Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick musical The Rothschilds; the 1972 Stephen Schwartz musical Pippin and 1984’s Noël Coward revival Design for Living. She last appeared in a revival of Barefoot in the Park in 2006.
In the pantheon of Hollywood, Clayburgh resides with Ellen Burstyn, Carrie Snodgress and Marsha Mason, and other actress who portrayed a new generation of liberated women, who were well educated and looking for more meaning in life, careers and relationships.
“I guess people look at me and they think I’m a ladylike character,” Clayburgh told The New York Times in 1982. “But it’s not what I do best. I do best with characters who are coming apart at the seams.”
In “An Unmarried Woman” (1978), she played a woman who had to contend with her sudden divorce when her husband finds another woman. The role of Erica earned her an Oscar nomination.
She also received an Oscar nod for the 1979 film “Starting Over.” She played Marilyn Holmberg, a teacher who embarks on a relationship with Phil, a newly divorced man played by Burt Reynolds.
One of her quintessential roles was in 1982’s “I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can.” Based on a memoir by Barbara Gordon, she played a career driven woman who turns to drugs to cope and develops a nasty Valium addiciton.
Beside Lily Rabe, she is survived by a son, Michael, a stepson, Jason, and a brother, James.