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Susan Tyrrell: Oscar-Nominated ‘Fat City’ Actress Remembered

Oscar-nominated actress Susan Tyrrell remembered

Susan TyrrellBest Supporting Actress Academy Award nominee Susan Tyrrell – for the 1972 drama Fat City – died at age 67 on June 17.

In John Huston’s unsparing Fat City, Susan Tyrrell delivers a harrowing portrayal of an alcoholic who has an affair with fading boxer Stacy Keach. As two boxers/brothers, Keach and Jeff Bridges were Tyrrell’s better-known co-stars, but Fat City belongs to her crass, spiteful, tragic Oma.

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Curiously, Turner Classic Movies is showing Fat City this evening. The movie was one of “TCM guest programmer” Ellen Barkin’s choices. Barkin cited Huston’s drama as one of the films that most influenced her decision to become an actress.

The stage-trained Susan Tyrrell (born March 18, 1945, in San Francisco) never became a movie star or even a “movie personality,” though she appeared in nearly 50 features in the last four decades. Besides Fat City, among Tyrrell’s best-remembered efforts are Burt Kennedy’s The Killer Inside Me (1976)*, once again playing opposite Stacy Keach, this time as a psychopathic small-town sheriff; Jed Johnson’s black comedy Bad (1977), with Carroll Baker; and John WatersCry-Baby (1990), starring Johnny Depp.

Susan Tyrrell: Legs amputated in 2000

In 2000, Tyrrell had both her legs amputated because of thrombocythemia. Following that, she would be featured in only three more films: Larry Charles’ star-studded Masked and Anonymous (2003), featuring Penélope Cruz, Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, Bob Dylan, Bruce Dern, and others; Garth Twa’s mystery / comedy Pieces of Dolores (2007); and David Zellner’s Kid-Thing (2012), which will be screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival later this month.

In a 2000 interview for the LA Weekly‘s Paul Cullum, Susan Tyrrell recalled: “The last thing my mother said to me was, ‘SuSu, your life is a celebration of everything that is cheap and tawdry.’ I’ve always liked that, and I’ve always tried to live up to it.”

Only surviving 1972 Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee

The only surviving 1972 Best Supporting Actress nominee is The Heartbreak Kid‘s Jeannie Berlin (63 next Nov. 1). The other nominees that year were Pete ‘n’ Tillie‘s Geraldine Page, The Poseidon Adventure‘s Shelley Winters, and the winner, Butterflies Are Free‘s Eileen Heckart.

* In Michael Winterbottom’s 2010 remake of The Killer Inside Me, Jessica Alba was cast in Susan Tyrrell’s original role. Casey Affleck starred as the psycho sheriff.

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