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Melinda Dillon, 2-Time Oscar Nominee, Is Dead at 83

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Melinda Dillon, who shot to Broadway stardom at 23, withdrew from acting after a mental breakdown, after which, in her late 30s, staged a comeback, receiving best supporting actress Oscar nominations for her roles in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Absence of Malice,” died on Jan. 9. She was 83.

Her death, which was announced by a cremation service, got here to public notice in recent days. The announcement didn’t specify the cause or location of her death.

Ms. Dillon was best known for enjoying moms coping with grave or silly problems in popular movies of the Seventies and ’80s. In “Close Encounters,” the enduring Steven Spielberg hit from 1977, she played an artist and single mother living on a rural farm who watches her son get abducted by aliens.

She played more explicitly archetypal moms in “Harry and the Hendersons” (1987), a family comedy about having Bigfoot as your pet, and “A Christmas Story” (1983), a series of vignettes depicting an all-American Christmas in midcentury Indiana.

The latter film, long a classic of the vacation season on television, inspired a 2020 tribute in The Recent York Times, which hailed Ms. Dillon’s character, a frazzled Everymom, as a “rattling hero.”

In “Absence of Malice” (1981), Ms. Dillon played against maternal type as a Catholic woman who must admit to having an abortion.

Her star turn of that era got here late for an actress — in Ms. Dillon’s late 30s and 40s — and it constituted an unexpected re-emergence, following a crisis that appeared to halt her promising profession.

Melinda Ruth Clardy was born in Hope, Ark., on Oct. 13, 1939. Her father, Floyd, worked as a traveling salesman, and her mother, Noreen, was a volunteer at a U.S. Army hospital. Noreen fell in love with Wilbur Dillon, a wounded veteran, and Melinda’s parents divorced when she was 5.

She took her stepfather’s surname and had the peripatetic upbringing of a baby of the military, living for some time in Germany. She left home at 16 and shortly began pursuing an acting profession.

She moved to Recent York City in 1962, fresh out of acting school. In only a matter of weeks, she landed certainly one of 4 parts within the Broadway debut of Edward Albee’s play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

She played Honey, the wife in a young couple invited to the house of an older couple for a drink. The premiere, on Oct. 13, fell on her twenty third birthday.

“Critics unanimously hailed her performance as superb,” The Every day News announced in a profile published that month that described Ms. Dillon’s “overnight rise from obscurity to stardom.”

Her agent, Peter Witt, told The News, “What has happened to her is a one in 1,000,000 shot paying off the primary outing within the theater.”

In a 2014 Recent York Times review of a recording of the play’s original solid, the theater critic Charles Isherwood called the production “certainly one of the seminal theatrical events of the twentieth century” and said the actors’ performances, including Ms. Dillon’s, “still feel fresh, fierce and definitive.”

But as time went on, the pressure bore down on Ms. Dillon. Sometimes she would perform in a three-hour matinee within the afternoon, then study acting with Lee Strasberg for 2 hours, after which do one other three-hour performance within the evening. Talking to stylish, powerful people within the Recent York theater world terrified her.

After nine months, she left the play and checked into the mental ward of Gracie Square Hospital in Recent York, where she found herself feeling suicidal.

“I had had the American dream — to go to Recent York and study with Lee Strasberg,” she told The Recent York Times in 1976. “I assume I just wasn’t prepared for all of it to occur so quickly.”

After her release from the hospital, she took a number of acting roles but then sought protected harbor in marriage, to the actor Richard Libertini, and in motherhood, raising their son, also named Richard.

But she didn’t find contentment in life away from the highlight. By the mid-Seventies, she was single and being solid in multiple major Hollywood productions, including “Slap Shot,” a 1977 film starring Paul Newman.

“I spent 10 and a half hours naked in bed with Paul and absolutely loved it,” she told People magazine in 1978.

After the apex of her Hollywood profession, she continued acting, and into the twenty first century she occasionally made appearances on television shows like “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Details about her survivors was not immediately available.

Ms. Dillon sang within the choir of a Methodist church as an adult, and he or she threw herself into film roles as moms. But she got here to reject what she had once sought within the lifetime of a conventional suburban housewife.

“I left home so early that after I found anyone who desired to care for me, I just stopped all the things; I could have soared ahead — I actually know that — and I selected to not,” she told The Times. In marriage, “I got buried alive,” she continued. “That’s what got me to act again.”

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