Shelley Duvall, ‘The Shining’ star, dies at 75

Jul 11, 2024, 1:53 PM

“The Shining” star Shelley Duvall, who played opposite Jack Nicholson as Wendy Torrance in the film, was found unresponsive when her partner, Dan Gilroy, found her at 7 a.m. Thursday. She was 75.

Gilroy, her partner since 1989, announced her death to her Hollywood Reporter and disclosed that she died at her home in Blanco, Texas, of complications from diabetes.

“My dear, sweet, wonderful life partner and friend left us. Too much suffering lately, now she’s free. Fly away, beautiful Shelley,” Gilroy said. He reported that she was under hospice care and bedridden for the months leading up to her death.

Although her role in “The Shining” (1980) remains arguably her most prominent, Duvall made a name for herself in the industry with other films such as “Annie Hall,” (1977) “Popeye,” (1980) “Thieves Like Us,” (1974) and “3 Women” (1977). In “The Shining,” set in Boulder and then the generic Rockies, Duvall plays the wife of Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, and she eventually becomes the object of Jack’s rage and spends much of the movie attempting to avoid death at his hands. The majority of the movie is set at the Overlook Hotel, which was inspired by The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.

The actress is frequently cited as director and screenwriter Robert Altman’s protegé, and her roles in seven of his films serve as evidence. Duvall met him at a party he attended while in her home state, Texas, during the making of “Brewster McCloud,” (1970) his fantasy comedy. Multiple crew members were taken by her personality and presence and thought she had a unique physical appearance, which led to her appearance in the movie. This gave Duvall, born in Fort Worth in 1949, an excuse to venture out of the state for the first time.

The feature served as Duvall’s unintentional start to a lifelong career in Hollywood. Her subsequent five roles were all in movies directed by Altman: “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” (1971) “Thieves Like Us,” “Nashville” (1975), “Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson” (1976) and “3 Women.”

According to Duvall, her experience during the filming of “The Shining” was dramatically different than her experience on Altman’s sets. She told Dr. Phil in 2016 that “…that film was hell to be part of.”

In order to keep her in a stressed state during filming, rumors have long circulated that the director of the horror film, Stanley Kubrick, intentionally isolated her by telling the cast and crew to ignore her. And, in order to get an authentic and raw reaction from her, he didn’t prepare her for the well-known baseball bat scene, where a bat-wielding Wendy is stalked and chased by a crazed Jack. The scene was said to have given her wounds on her hands from the bat, given that Kubrick made the two shoot the scene 127 times. She allegedly lost clumps of hair from stress during the filming process, and told David Hughes in his book “The Complete Kubrick” that “From May until October, I was really in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great.”

The hard-fought role was met with criticism, Duvall even earning a Worst Actress nomination for a Razzie, an award that spotlights the worst films and performances the day before the Oscars. The nomination was rescinded in 2022.

Duvall’s major film roles started to taper off after the ’80s, as she focused her attention to behind-the-scenes projects. One of which was Think Entertainment, a production company that developed programs and television movies for cable. She also created the series “Nightmare Classics” in 1989, which churned out adaptations of classic horror stories. She continued to make smaller TV and film performances throughout the ’90s and took a 20-year hiatus after a role in 2002.

Duvall tipped her toe into the world of singing with her release of two CDs — “Hello, I’m Shelley Duvall… Sweet Dreams” and “Hello, I’m Shelley Duvall… Merry Christmas” — both released in 1991.

Her final acting role, perhaps fittingly, was in a 2022 horror film, “The Forest Hills.”

She married Bernard Sampson in 1970, but the pair divorced in 1974. A couple of years later, Duvall met Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel during the shooting of “Annie Hall” in New York, giving way to a two-year relationship that ended when she introduced him to his future wife, actress Carrie Fisher.

She returned full-time to the Lone Star State in 1994 and remained there until her death. The news of her passing comes just a few days after her birthday on July 7.

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