Melinda Dillon, Close Encounters and A Christmas Story Star, Dead at 83

Melinda Dillon, Close Encounters and A Christmas Story Star, Dead at 83


Melinda Dillon, the two-time Oscar nominee known for her roles in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “A Christmas Story,” died January 9 in Los Angeles, according to an announcement from her family. She was 83.

Dillon was born in 1939 in Hope, Arkansas. Her stepfather was an army veteran, and she grew up on military bases around the country and in Germany before graduating from the Hyde Park High School in Chicago. She studied acting at the Goodman School of Drama (now at DePaul University, formerly at the Art Institute of Chicago) and began her career performing improv at The Second City.

Dillon began her career as a theatre actress, playing the role of Honey in the original 1962 Broadway production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” The performance earned her a Tony nomination at 23 years old. Over the course of her career she picked up two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress for her turns as a mother whose children are abducted by aliens in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and as a teacher who dies by suicide in “Absence of Malice.” She also picked up a Golden Globe nod in 1976 for portraying Woody Guthrie’s first wife Mary in the film “Bound for Glory.”

After her Tony nomination for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” Dillon also appeared on Broadway in “You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running” and “Paul Sill’s Story Theatre.” Her first feature film role was in 1969’s “The April Fools,” a romantic comedy starring Jack Lemmon.

After guest spots on shows like “Bonanza” and “The Jeffersons,” Dillon broke out for her performance in “Bound for Glory” opposite David Carradine as Guthrie. The following year saw her star in “Close Encounters,” cameo in “The Muppets Movie,” and play a supporting role in “Slap Shot” alongside Paul Newman. Dillon reunited with Newman in 1981 for “Absence of Malice,” picking up her second Oscar nomination in the process.

In 1983, Dillon starred in perhaps her most famous role as Mrs. Parker in the seasonal classic “A Christmas Story.” In the role, Dillon played Ralphie’s mother as a sweet attentive presence who was famously concerned that her son would shoot his eye out.

Dillon maintained a presence in film throughout the ’80s and ’90s, appearing with John Lithgow in “Harry and the Hendersons,” Barbra Streisand in “The Prince of Tides,” and Winona Ryder in “How to Make an American Quilt.” In 1999, she had a prominent role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ensemble drama “Magnolia,” playing the estranged wife of game show host Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall). Her final credits included a 2005 guest spot on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and a three-episode spot on the medical drama “Heartland” in 2007.

From 1963 to 1978, Dillon was married to actor Richard Libertini, who died in 2016. She is survived by their one son.

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