Louise Fletcher, the sweet Alabama actress who won an Academy Award for her turn as the heartless nurse Ratched — one of the most reviled characters in movie history — in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, has passed away. She was 88.
Fletcher died of natural causes at her home in Montdurausse, France on Friday, her son Andrew Bick told The Hollywood Reporter. She had survived two breast cancer attacks.
A daughter of deaf parents – she gave one of the most touching acceptance speeches in Oscar history – Fletcher also starred as a psychiatrist in Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and starred opposite Peter Falk amid the star-studded ensemble in The cheap detective (1978).
On television she portrayed the religious leader Kai Winn Adami on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and received Emmy nominations in 1996 and 2004 for her guest roles on picket fences and Joan of Arcadiarespectively.
More recently, she played William H. Macy’s meth-trading mother on shameless and appeared in the film of Liev Schreiber A perfect man (2013) and in the Netflix series girlbossstarring Britt Robertson.
After more than a decade away from show business to raise her two sons, Fletcher returned to Hollywood and appeared opposite Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall in the Robert Altman film. Thieves like us (1974).
Director Milos Forman, then casting for 1975 One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest — based on Ken Kesey’s 1962 book about life in an Oregon psychiatric hospital — saw her in that film.
“He looked up to watch Shelley Duvall play one of the girls who comes into the ward on the party night, and there I was,” Fletcher recalled in a 2016 interview. “He said, ‘Who is Which?’ “
A year later, after Anne Bancroft, Angela Lansbury, Geraldine Page, Colleen Dewhurst and Ellen Burstyn all turned down the chance to play Nurse Ratched – many thought the character was too impossibly bad – Forman finally gave Fletcher the part.
“I’ve tried it many, many times,” she said. “I didn’t realize a lot of other women turned it down. They offered it to a lot of movie stars who turned it down, luckily for me. To think, what if someone else had said yes?”
In the film, the icy Ratched humiliates her patients and revokes their privileges on a whim. When she can’t control a new arrival, Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), she administers shock therapy and then has him perform a lobotomy.
Fletcher knew her life was changed forever when she watched cuckoo’s nest for the first time with an audience and saw how people reacted to a scene where McMurphy tries to kill her character.
“It was in Chicago and it was a full house,” she recalls. “When he strangled her, the crowd stood up and screamed and cheered. Rose. It was incredible. I was excited.”
On its 2003 list of the 100 greatest villains in the annals of movies, the American Film Institute placed Nurse Ratched at number 5, behind only Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Darth Vader, and the Wicked Witch of the West. (Sarah Paulson recently revived the character in a Ryan Murphy prequel series for Netflix.)
After Fletcher heard her name called by host Charles Bronson and came to the stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to receive her Oscar, she said, “Well, it seems you all hate me so much that you got me this award for it. , and I enjoy every minute of it. And all I can say is, I loved being hated by you.”
She then paid tribute to her parents: “And if you’ll excuse me… [using sign language]: for my mother and my father I want to thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You see my dream come true.”
The second of four children, she was born on July 22, 1934, in Birmingham, Alabama, to an Episcopal minister, Rev. Robert C. Fletcher, and his wife, Estelle. They had both lost their hearing when they were children, he when he was struck by lightning, she from illness.
“If I fell and hurt myself, I never cried,” Fletcher said The New York Times in 1975. “There was no one to hear me.”
She was extremely shy and her parents sent her to an aunt in Texas, where she lived for several years before attending Ramsay High School in Birmingham and graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1957.
She traveled to Los Angeles with friends and decided to stay, where she worked as a receptionist and took acting classes in the evenings with acclaimed teacher Jeff Corey. (Robert Blake was a fellow student.)
After getting steady work in television programs like Bat Masterson, Lawman, 77 Sunset Strip, Wagon Train and Perry Masonthe 1-foot-10 actress made her big-screen debut in the war film A gathering of eagles (1963), starring Rock Hudson.
She had son John in 1961, and while pregnant with Andrew a year later, she decided to leave the company. She was married to Jerry Bick, a literary agent who would produce films like Altman’s The long goodbye (1973) and Thieves like us.
Fletcher said she didn’t want to appear in… Thieves like us because of her husband’s involvement, but Altman insisted.
In preparation for her role in cuckoo’s nestFletcher observed group therapy sessions at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, where the film was shot. She spent 11 weeks at the facility during the making of the film.
In her New York Times In an interview she described to Mildred Ratched: “She was so out of touch with her feelings that she had no joy in her life and no idea that she was wrong. She cared for her insane patients in a killer way, but she was convinced she was right.”
Pauline Kael van The New Yorker called her performance “masterful,” and the film also won Oscars for Best Director, Picture, Actor and Screenplay, a range matched only by It happened one night (1934) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
Fletcher never came close to such an acting greatness.
The role of Linnea, the gospel-singing mother of two deaf children in Nashville (1975), was made with her in mind, but she and her husband argued with Altman, and Lily Tomlin got the part (and an eventual supporting actress Oscar nom).
Fletcher appeared in other films, including: The woman in red (1979), brainstorm (1983), fire starter (1984), Invaders from Mars (1986), Flowers in the attic (1987), Two Moon Junction (1988), Blue Steel (1989), The player (1992) – back in good graces with Altman – Virtuosity (1995), Secondary school (1996), Mulholland Falls (1996), cruel intentions (1999) and A map of the world (1999).
After she and Bick divorced, she made headlines by having a romantic relationship with the much younger Morgan Mason. (The son of British actor James Mason, he later married singer Belinda Carlisle.)
In addition to her sons, survivors include her sister, Roberta.
Known forever for playing Nurse Ratched, Fletcher noted in 2012 that she could no longer bear to look at herself cuckoo’s nest. “I was really shocked by those scenes where I was actually so cruel,” she said.