Louise Fletcher, Oscar Winner for ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ Dead at 88

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Louise Fletcher
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Louise Fletcher, the beloved actress who won an Academy Award in 1976 for Best Actress for her portrayal of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, has died. She was 88.

According to multiple reports, the actress died Friday at her home in the south of France. The Milos Forman film -- based on Ken Kesey's 1962 novel -- went on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay. The film received a total of nine nominations.

While Fletcher hit stardom following her portrayal of Nurse Ratched, it almost didn't turn out that way. For starters, despite having a long career that spanned six decades, Fletcher was relatively unknown before she landed the Ratched role. She had just returned to acting in 1974 -- one year before One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest's release -- after stepping away for about a decade to raise her family.

Several leading ladies -- from Angela Lansbury to Ellen Burstyn -- all turned down the Nurse Ratched role as they were afraid the conniving role would typecast them or affect their careers in some other form. 

Fletcher's first role upon her return to acting was in a supporting role in the 1974 film Thieves Like Us. Forman screened the film to give Fletcher a closer look. 

Louise Fletcher
Getty
Louise Fletcher
Getty
Louise Fletcher
Getty

"She was all wrong for the [Ratched] role, but there was something about her," Forman wrote in his memoir, Turnaround: A Memoir. "I asked her to read with me and suddenly, beneath the velvety exterior, I discovered a toughness and willpower that seemed tailored for the role." 

Not only did the role garner her an Oscar, Fletcher would go on to etch her name in Hollywood lore after being named in the "100 years... 100 Heroes & Villains" list by the American Film Institute, coming in as the fifth greatest villain in film history. 

Fletcher's TV credits also included Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Shameless. She also earned Emmy nominations for her roles in Picket Fences (1996) and Joan of Arcadia (2004). She'd go on to films such as The Cheap Detective, Natural Enemies, Cruel Intentions, Exorcist II: The Heretic and Firestarter, which featured a young Drew Barrymore.

Fletcher, who made her TV debut in 1958 on Playhouse 90, was born to deaf parents in Birmingham, Alabama. According to Variety, the same aunt who taught her how to speak at 8 years old also introduced her to acting. Fletcher attended the University of North Carolina but ended up stranded in Los Angeles following a cross-country trip. And it was while she was stranded in L.A. when she got into acting.

Fletcher was married to Jerry Bick, a literary agent turned producer, from 1959 to 1978. He died in 2004. Fletcher is survived by her sons John Dashiell Bick and Andrew Wilson Bick.

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