OSCAR-NOMINATED ACTRESS BATTLED CHRONIC LYMPHOCYTIC LEUKEMIA
Jill Clayburgh, who starred as the bride in Brian De Palma's first feature The Wedding Party, died Friday at her home in Lakeville, Connecticut, according to the Hollywood Reporter. She was 66 years old, and had been quietly battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia for 21 years, according to her husband, David Rabe, speaking to the Associated Press. At Sarah Lawrence College in the early 1960s, Clayburgh met and dated De Palma, where they made The Wedding Party with mentor Wilford Leach. The film also featured Robert DeNiro, William Finley, and Jennifer Salt. In an interview for Sarah Lawrence College's alumni magazine in 2007, Clayburgh explained how she steered herself toward the theatre, and, eventually, films:
I did theatre because I hated gym. It wasn’t like now, when everybody is thinking about what they’re going to be. I went to an all-girls’ school in New York City and the theatre was at the boy’s school, so I went there to hang around with the boys – not because I thought, ‘I’m going to be ACTRESS.’ It let me get out of horrible gym, but it was no great, overwhelming drive to act. And then I got very tall and I kept getting the boys’ parts and I didn’t like that. So I stopped acting.
At Sarah Lawrence, I started off concentrating in religion and philosophy, but then I did a summer apprenticeship at Williamstown – it’s a fabulous program that they have – and I just fell in love with the theatre.
I did plays at Sarah Lawrence with Wilford Leach, who subsequently became a director at the Public Theater with Joe Papp, and I also worked with John Braswell. So I had Will and John and Brian De Palma [SLC/M.A. ’64], who was one of our first male students – in fact, he was one of the few men around. He directed and did some of his earliest movies there. I dated him and worked with him. We did a movie called The Wedding Party. It was a collaboration with Will and Brian. John was in it too, and Robert De Niro, who used to come up from the City and do shows at SLC. What Will was doing was so off the radar; it was as if he had his own theatre chemistry lab at the College.
FROM THE WEDDING PARTY TO BRIDESMAIDS
[Clayburgh and De Palma are pictured here from 1976]
Clayburgh went on to appear in several Broadway productions and films, and really made her mark in Paul Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman in 1978, which garnered her first Oscar nomination. The following year, she was nominated again for her role in Alan J. Pakula's Starting Over. These two roles solidified Clayburgh as a symbol of the growing feminist movement in the 1970s.
Clayburgh, Rabe, and De Palma have remained friends throughout the years (as recently as three years ago, Rabe revised a draft of the screenplay for De Palma's still-in-development Untouchables prequel). Clayburgh once dated Al Pacino, with whom she starred in an off-Broadway production of The Indian Wants the Bronx in 1968. Recently, her daughter, Lily Rabe, had been co-starring with Pacino in a Broadway production of The Merchant of Venice (Rabe is taking a week-long leave of absence from the show, which is pushing its official opening night from November 7th to November 15th). Clayburgh had been appearing in several stage productions of late, as well as taking on various film and TV roles, including Nip/Tuck, for which Jennifer Salt was a producer/writer.
Clayburgh can be seen back in theaters later this month when Edward Zwick's Love & Other Drugs opens November 24th. Clayburgh's movie career will perhaps come full circle with her final film role next May, in Paul Feig's Bridesmaids, a comedy in which two women battle to plan their friend's wedding party.