Oscar-winning actor Louise Fletcher passes away at 88

Louise Fletcher, a late-blooming actress who earned an Academy Award for her compelling portrayal of the cold-blooded Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, has passed away at age 88. Fletcher passed away peacefully in her sleep at her home in Montdurausse, France, according to her agent David Shaul, who spoke to The Associated Press on Friday. The reason wasn't stated.

Fletcher was in her early 40s and relatively unknown when filmmaker Milos Forman chose her for the role opposite Jack Nicholson in the 1975 movie. Forman had loved her work in director Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us the year before. She was unaware that other well-known actors, like Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, and Angela Lansbury, had declined.

“I was the last person cast,” she recalled in a 2004 interview. “It wasn’t until we were halfway through shooting that I realized the part had been offered to other actresses who didn’t want to appear so horrible on the screen.” After 1934's It Happened One Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest went on to become the first movie to win best picture, best director, best actor, best actress, and best screenplay.

At the 1976 event, Fletcher told the crowd while clutching her Oscar, “It looks as though you all hated me.” She continued by speaking to and signing to her deaf parents in Birmingham, Alabama, “I want to thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You are seeing my dream come true.”

There was silence for a moment, then roaring applause. Later on in the evening, Forman quipped to Fletcher and her co-star Jack Nicholson, “Now we all will make tremendous flops.” He was correct—at least in the near term. The popular Broadway musical Hair had a cinematic adaptation under the direction of Forman, although it fell short of the stage production in terms of appeal. One of his poorest movies, Goin' South, was both directed and starred Nicholson. Fletcher agreed to work on the poorly thought-out sequel to the groundbreaking first film, Exorcist II: The Heretic. 

Fletcher's age made it far more difficult for her to land significant jobs in Hollywood than it did for her male peers. She continued to work nonstop for the majority of the rest of her life. The Boy Who Could Fly, Dead Kids, and Mama Dracula were some of her post-Nest Cuckoo movies.

Fletcher’s death was first reported by Deadline. She is survived by her two sons, John and Andrew Bick.

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