Five Easy Pieces Star Karen Black Dead at 74

Actress co-starred with Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, and Peter Fonda

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Aug 8, 2013 6:16 PM CDT

(Newser) – Karen Black, the prolific actress who appeared in more than 100 movies and was featured in such counterculture favorites as Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and Nashville, died yesterday from complications from cancer. She was 74. Known for her full lips and thick, wavy hair that seemed to change color from film to film, Black often portrayed women who were quirky, troubled, or threatened. Her breakthrough was as a prostitute who takes LSD with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in 1969's Easy Rider, the hippie classic that helped get her the role of Rayette Dipesto, a waitress who dates—and is mistreated by—an upper-class dropout played by Jack Nicholson in 1970's Five Easy Pieces.

Black's performance won her an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe Award. She would recall that playing Rayette really was acting: The well-read, cerebral Black, raised in a comfortable Chicago suburb, had little in common with her relatively simple-minded character. Over the next few years, she worked with such top actors and directors as Richard Benjamin (Portnoy's Complaint), Robert Redford and Mia Farrow (The Great Gatsby) and Charlton Heston (Airport 1975). The actress would claim that her career as an A-list actress was ruined by The Day of the Locust, a troubled 1975 production that brought her a Golden Globe nomination but left Black struggling to find quality roles.

In this Dec. 29, 1981 file photo, director Robert Altman, right, poses with actresses, from left, Karen Black, Sandy Dennis and Cher in New York City.
In this Dec. 29, 1981 file photo, director Robert Altman, right, poses with actresses, from left, Karen Black, Sandy Dennis and Cher in New York City.   (Marty Lederhandler)
In this Sept. 11, 1970 file photo, Jack Nicholson, right, and co-star Karen Black appear together at New York's Philharmonic Hall to attend the premiere of their new film Five Easy Pieces.
In this Sept. 11, 1970 file photo, Jack Nicholson, right, and co-star Karen Black appear together at New York's Philharmonic Hall to attend the premiere of their new film "Five Easy Pieces."   (AP Photo, File)
FILE - This June 11, 2009 file photo shows actress Karen Black, a cast member in Irene in Time, at the premiere of the film in Los Angeles. The “Easy Rider” and “Five Easy Pieces” star Black, 74, has died. Her husband, Stephen Eckelberry, says the actress died Wednesday, Aug....
FILE - This June 11, 2009 file photo shows actress Karen Black, a cast member in "Irene in Time," at the premiere of the film in Los Angeles. The “Easy Rider” and “Five Easy Pieces” star Black, 74, has...   (Chris Pizzello)
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