Jill Clayburgh dies at 66

An Unmarried Woman star succumbs to leukaemia

by Jennie Kermode

In recent years she kept a low profile in Hollywood, being better known for her TV work in the likes of The Practice and Dirty, Sexy Money, but Jill Clayburgh was a twice Oscar-nominated star who took the 1978 Best Actress award at Cannes for her work in An Unmarried Woman. She died at home yesterday after a 20 year struggle with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

The daughter of a theatrical production secretary, Clayburgh first became interested in acting when at college and joined Boston's Charles Street Repertory Theater, leading to an extensive Broadway career. She moved into film with a starring role in Brian De Palma's The Wedding Party in 1963, but despite a number of subsequent roles in popular comedies never quite found the material she wanted to stretch herself. It wasn't until 1978, in the role of a divorcee finding a new direction in life, that she really made an impact. Controversial in its time, An Unmarried Woman nevertheless drew praise from the critics and successfully tapped into a generation of women who were starting to see their lives represented on the screen for the first time. Clayburgh showed that she could bring a lighthearted touch to serious issues without ever diminishing the strength of her onscreen characters, with further impressive performances in films like Starting Over and I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can.

Clayburgh is survived by her husband, the playwright David Rabe, and their two children, who include actress Lily Rabe. One of her final roles was in Love And Other Drugs, which will open across the UK next month

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