Shirley Knight, a Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actress whose long and varied career included Oscar-nominated performances in 1960’s The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and 1962’s Sweet Bird of Youth, died today of natural causes at the home of her daughter Kaitlin Hopkins, in San Marcos, TX. She was 83.
In a memorial tribute addressed to Knight and posted on Facebook, Hopkins, an actress, wrote: “Early this morning April 22nd you passed away, and your sweet soul left us for a better place. I was at your side and you went peacefully. To me, you were ‘just mom’, to some you were ‘Miss Knight’, ‘Miss Shirley’, ‘Mama Shirley’ (to my students), ‘Shirl the Girl’ (to your friends), and ‘Shirley Knight’ to your fans.”
After scattered appearances on episodic TV in the 1950s, Knight had her breakthrough role in the Delbert Mann film adaptation of William Inge’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, receiving a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
Knight was nominated in the same category two years later for her performance as the lovestruck Heavenly Finley opposite Paul Newman and Geraldine Page in Richard Brooks’ adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth — co-stars Knight would later credit for inspiring her to study acting at New York’s Actors Studio.
Throughout the 1960s and well into the 21st Century, Knight would have a prolific career in film, on the stage and on television. She gave memorable TV performances in series spanning 1963’s The Outer Limits through the 1970s’ Streets of San Francisco, the 1980s series Thirtysomething, the 1990s’ NYPD Blue and a recurring role as Phyllis Van De Kamp in the early 2000s’ Desperate Housewives, among many others.
She won an Emmy Award for 1995’s Indictment: The McMartin Trial, and for guest appearances on Thirtysomething and NYPD Blue. She was most recently nominated in the guest category for Desperate Housewives.
Knight also won a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Kennedy’s Children in 1976. She was nominated for Lead Actress in a Play for 1997’s The Young Man from Atlanta opposite Rip Torn. Her other Broadway credits include The Three Sisters (1964), We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1966) and The Watering Place with William Devane (1969).
She survived by two daughters, screenwriter Sophie Jacks and actress Kaitlin Hopkins, and stepdaughter Justine.
A memorial service will be held in Los Angeles early next year. In lieu of flowers, contribution in her memory can be made to The Shirley Knight Memorial Fund at Texas State University, where an endowment in her name will be established.
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