After fighting chronic lymphocytic leukemia for more than 21 years, two-time Oscar nominee Jill Clayburgh has died. Her final film, the upcoming Bridesmaids, hits theaters in 2011, but it's her work during the 1970s that made her so legendary.
Clayburgh began acting on Broadway in the 1960s, but truly hit her stride during the women's liberation movement—a time when women actresses could actually find roles to play that didn't insult their (or the audience's) intelligence. The roles Clayburgh played-a jilted wife in An Unmarried Woman (1978), a teacher pursuing a relationship with a divorced man in Starting Over (1979)-were, as her Times obituary notes, "characters sprung from the new feminist ethos: smart, capable and gritty, sometimes neurotic, but no less glamorous for all that." In other words, characters that were badass because of their humanity, complexity, and emotional strength—not their machine gun-wielding ma-she's-mo or ability to beat the shit out of some guy/alien/other thing.
Clayburgh herself believed she was at her best when she played characters "who are coming apart at the seams"—an interesting comment to make, given how much inner strength she must have had to endure chronic illness for so many years. And while her lives on the big screen might have been chaotic, her real-life personal affairs seemed to be in order, at least from an outsider's perspective; being married to the same person for more than 30 years isn't an achievement many Hollywood actors can claim.
In addition to film, Clayburgh made appearances on Law and Order, The Practice, and other television shows, and continued acting in films ranging from romantic comedies (1993's Naked in New York) to Running With Scissors, the comedy based on Augusten Burroughs's semi-autobiography about growing up in an eccentric household. Love and Other Drugs, in which she stars alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, hits theaters soon.
Jill Clayburgh Dies at 66; Starred in Feminist Roles [NY Times]
Ten of the Most Bad Ass Women in Movies [Unreality Mag]