The consummate stage, film, and TV star died today of cancer just weeks shy of the release of her last film role playing the mother of Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in the upcoming 20th Century Fox film Love And Other Drugs. But she will be remembered best as a feminist icon for starring in one of the most seminal women’s lib films, 1978’s An Unmarried Woman, winning the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival, and also portraying a female U.S. Supreme Court judge in 1981’s First Monday In October the same year it became America’s reality. Her husband, Tony Award-winning playwright David Rabe told the AP that Clayburgh lost a 21-year battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia surrounded by her family and brother when she passed away at her home in Lakeville, Conn. She was 66.
Quietly sexy, Clayburgh was all about the work and rarely about the stardom. She also was that rare actress who could switch between drama and comedy with seeming ease. “Clayburgh, alongside peers such as Anne Bancroft, Shirley MacLaine and Jane Fonda, helped to usher in a new era for actresses in Hollywood by playing women who were confident and capable yet not completely flawless,” the AP said tonight. Her specialty was playing modern women struggling with personal and emotional scars, which is why both An Unmarried Woman and Starting Over earned her Oscar nominations. A product of a privileged New York family whose mother worked for Broadway producer David Merrick, Clayburgh began her acting career on the stage. Besides appearing on Broadway in The Rothschilds and Pippin and A Naked Girl On The Appian Way, she co-starred in movies as diverse as Portnoy’s Complaint, Semi-Tough, I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can, Silver Streak, La Luna, Rich In Love, and Running With Scissors. In later years, she did more TV, most recently on Ally McBeal and Nip/Tuck and Dirty Sexy Money and Law & Order, and was nominated for two Emmys.