Melinda Dillon (1939-2023)
Melinda Dillon, best known for her Supporting Oscar Nominations in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Absence of Malice”, as well as the doting mom in the holiday favorite “A Christmas Story”, has died at the age of 83. Born in Arkansas, Dillon grew up as a military brat moving all over, finally settling in Chicago and attending Hyde Park High School and the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago (now at DePaul University).
While working as the coat check girl for The Second City, Dillon stepped in for an ill Barbara Harris and performed in a skit, setting her acting career in motion. Second City also is where she met her future husband and fellow alum Richard Libertini until their 1978 divorce; they have a son together. Her 1963 debut performance at the age of 24 in the original Broadway production of Edward Albee‘s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” earned her a Tony nomination and Theatre World award, but she left the role after a short 9 months, spending time in a psychiatric hospital - “I was in Virginia Woolf, and I just went crazy; it was really that simple,” she said.
Dillon returned to Broadway in 1967, spending two seasons in the hit “You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running”, and in 1970 in Paul Sills’ “Story Theatre”. In between, she made her big-screen debut in “The April Fools” (1969), starring Jack Lemmon. Later, the Second City alum played opposite David Carradine in the 1976 biopic “Bound for Glory”, notable mostly for Director Hall Ashby being the one who recommended Dillon to Steven Spielberg for her iconic role as single mom to the 3 yo boy who is abducted by aliens in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
Other film credits include: a lesbian hockey wife in “Slap Shot” (1977); Norman Jewison’s “F.I.S.T.” (1978), “The Muppet Movie” (1979), Sydney Pollack’s Absence of Malice (1981) back with “Slap Shot” co-star Paul Newman; “Songwriter” (1984), John Lithgow’s wife in “Harry and the Hendersons” (1987); Barbra Streisand’s “The Prince of Tides” (1991) as Nick Nolte’s suicidal sister; “Sioux City” (1994); “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar” (1995); “How to Make an American Quilt” (1995); Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” (1999); and “Reign Over Me” (2007). She also guest-starred on such TV shows as “The Jeffersons”, “Picket Fences” and “Heartland”.