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Shelley Duvall: The Shining actress dies aged 75

Shelley Duvall, the actress best known for her performance in psychological horror The Shining, has died at the age of 75.

It is her screaming face that makes up half of the film’s most iconic image, as an axe wielded by co-star Jack Nicholson smashes through the door next to her.

She also starred in films including Popeye, alongside Robin Williams, and Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, and worked frequently with the filmmaker Robert Altman.

The actress died in her sleep at her home in Blanco, Texas, overnight, her partner told Sky News’ US partner network NBC News. She had been receiving hospice care after suffering complications from diabetes for the past few months.

“My dear, sweet, wonderful life, partner, and friend left us last night,” Dan Gilroy said in a statement. “Too much suffering lately, now she’s free. Fly away, beautiful Shelley.”

The couple had been together for 34 years. Speaking to NBC, Gilroy said: “I can’t tell you how much I miss her. This is a great little community here, and lots of people are just so supportive. We have good friends right here, so there’s a support system in place… I’m happy for her that she’s not suffering.”

shelley duvall
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Pic: AP

Duvall was attending junior college in Texas when she encountered some of Altman’s crew members at a party in Houston in 1970.

She was cast in the fantasy comedy Brewster McCloud and went on to become his protege. The pair worked together on seven of his films in total, including Popeye, in which she starred as Olive Oyl opposite Williams.

The star gained widespread recognition in Altman movies such as Nashville and 3 Women – with the latter earning her the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. She also starred in Jane Campion’s The Portrait Of A Lady, opposite Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich.

But it is her iconic performance as a terror-stricken wife and mother in classic 1980 horror The Shining for which she is best known, playing tormented Wendy Torrance in the Stanley Kubrick adaptation of the Stephen King novel.

Kubrick, a famous perfectionist, was notoriously hard on the actress during production of the film, set in the creepy Overlook Hotel, with one distressing scene reportedly performed in 127 takes.

In an interview with People magazine in 1981, Duvall said she was crying “12 hours a day for weeks on end” while filming. “I will never give that much again,” she said.”If you want to get into pain and call it art, go ahead, but not with me.”

Pic: Walt Disney/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

Popeye - 1980
Shelley Duvall, Robin Williams

1980
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Opposite Robin Williams in Popeye. Pic: Walt Disney/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

Duvall was not a conventional Hollywood starlet and her looks were often commented on. In a newspaper profile in 1977, she was described as “a 5ft 7in stick figure of a girl, with bangs, a blank-page expression and an overbite”.

On screen, she was natural and captivating. The film critic Pauline Kael once called her the “female Buster Keaton”.

To Altman, she was a muse, an actress who could “swing all sides of the pendulum: charming, silly, sophisticated, pathetic – even beautiful”.

She loved working with him.

“He offers me damn good roles,” Duvall told The New York Times in 1977. “None of them have been alike. He has a great confidence in me, and a trust and respect for me, and he doesn’t put any restrictions on me or intimidate me, and I love him. I remember the first advice he ever gave me: ‘Don’t take yourself seriously.'”

As well as acting, in the late 1980s and ’90s Duvall expanded into production and created the children’s television series Faerie Tale Theatre – for which she received a Peabody Award, a Golden CableAce Award, and the Television Critic Association’s outstanding achievement in children’s programming.

She was also the creator of the children’s series Shelley Duvall’s Tall Tales & Legends.

She moved back to Texas in the mid-1990s and around 2002, after making the comedy Manna From Heaven, she retreated from Hollywood completely – making a return to acting just last year in the horror The Forest Hills.

She and Gilroy had been in a relationship since 1989.

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