Susan Tyrrell, 1945 – 2012

Susan Tyrrell

Susan Tyrrell as the High Priestess in ‘The Devil’s Due at Midnight,’ a segment in Edward L. Plumb’s ‘The Boneyard Collection’ (2004)

“Susan Tyrrell, a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nominee for the 1972 drama Fat City, died of complications of thrombocythemia, a bone marrow disease, on Sunday, June 17,” reports Andre Soares at the Alt Film Guide. “Tyrrell was 67. In John Huston’s unsparing Fat City, Susan Tyrrell delivers a harrowing portrayal of an alcoholic who has an affair with fading boxer Stacy Keach. As two boxers/brothers, Keach and Jeff Bridges were Tyrrell’s better-known co-stars, but Fat City belongs to her crass, spiteful, tragic Oma.”

At Tyrrell’s official site, you’ll find reproductions of her art as well as photos and a link to Paul Cullum‘s profile for the LA Weekly, written in 2000. The thrombocythemia had been diagnosed earlier that year and both of Tyrrell’s legs had had to be amputated below the knee:

SuSu, as Tyrrell insists on being addressed by friend and interviewer alike — diminutive, elfin, a reluctant gamine with a vocabulary on her that would peel the blush off a sailor — is widely remembered today for her role as the drunken boxer’s moll in John Huston’s Fat City… Like Goldie Hawn, Karen Black or now, perhaps, Mira Sorvino, she received her strongest accolades at the very start of her career, where, like youth itself, they were squandered on the young. Yet far from slipping into formula comedies, self-parody or tabloid romances—those tragic concessions that pay the bills and perpetuate the limelight, but scour the soul—Tyrrell, over the course of 30 years, in some 60 films, has continued to work, largely as a character actress. She’s the infant’s mewling mother in Andy Warhol’s Bad (1977), Bukowski’s Method barfly in the Italian production Tales of Ordinary Madness (1983), Hemingway’s whorehouse madam in Islands in the Stream (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1977), and Doris, Queen of the Sixth Dimension, in the seldom-seen Richard and Danny Elfman musical Forbidden Zone (1980). She has acted in films by Amos Poe (1981’s Subway Riders), Paul Verhoeven (1985’s Flesh + Blood) and John Waters (1990’s Cry-Baby), as well as her share of cult items, from erstwhile Kubrick/Polanski producer James B. Harris’s prison drama Fast-Walking (1982), to Bill Fishman’s hipster indie Tapeheads (1988), to Randal Kleiser’s Tim Burton follow-up Big Top Pee-Wee (1988), to Victor Salva’s beleaguered Powder (1995), to a 1974 rock & roll version of Othello called Catch My Soul (a.k.a. Santa Fe Satan), directed by The Prisoner star Patrick McGoohan.

“Tyrrell moved to Austin in 2008 and most recently appeared as an eerie woman trapped in a hole in the woods in Nathan and David Zellner‘s Kid-Thing,” writes Matthew Odam in the Austin American-Statesman. “‘It was such a joy to have been pals with the one and only SuSu, one of my favorite actresses ever and just as much a presence in person as on-screen,’ said David Zellner. ‘Her lust for life, her fixation with provocation and the subversive was so refreshing and fun. And her absolute candor. Nothing was off limits with her—she didn’t mince words, she loved what she loved and she hated what she hated … I’m so grateful that we got to work together on Kid-Thing. Until we screened the finished product for her, we had no idea which way it would go and were humbled by how proud of it she was. She will be sorely missed.'”

More from Marc Campbell at Dangerous Minds.

Update, 6/19: “It was after 1980’s Tales of Ordinary Madness—an Italian feature based on the works of Charles Bukowski—that my interest in Tyrrell became a serious, almost obsessive crush,” recalls Jim Knipfel at the Chiseler. “And I can blame it all on a single line of dialogue: ‘I’ll make us some… steak an’ eggs.’ It didn’t matter that she was playing a bleach blonde hooker in a black lace push-up bra and garters. No, it was just the way ‘shhteak an’ ayygs’ slid out in that husky voice of hers, that little shift in her heavy jaw,  that hooked me. I was well aware of her before that, but it was then that I consciously decided that I needed to see everything she’d appeared in.”

Update, 6/27: It’s Susan Tyrrell Day at DC’s.

Update, 7/1: “One particular favorite among fans of low-budget, cheesy horror movies was Night Warning (1983), in which Tyrrell is a possessive, psychopathic, axe-wielding aunt,” writes Ronald Bergan for the Guardian. “There followed her lesbian landlady Solly Mosler in Angel (1984) and its sequel, Avenging Angel (1985). She was filmed to look two inches tall in Big Top Pee Wee (1988) and was a singing bartender in Rockula (1990). John Waters’s Cry-Baby had her as Johnny Depp’s rockabilly grandmother, Ramona Rickettes, who shoots gophers and throws darts at a picture of Queen Elizabeth II. At one stage, she says to one of her acolytes, ‘You’re everything a man should be: young, stupid and mean.'”

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