Knight died on Wednesday at his daughter’s home in San Marcos, Texas, according to daughter Kaitlin Hopkins.
Knight’s career has taken her from Kansas to Hollywood, then to New York Theater and London, and back to Hollywood. She was nominated for two Tonys, winning one.
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In recent years, she has had a recurring role as Phyllis Van de Kamp (the stepmother of the character of Marcia Cross) in the long ABC show “Desperate Housewives”, winning one of her many Emmy Awards nominations.
Knight won his first Oscar nomination for best supporting actress in his second screen role, as an Oklahoman in love with a Jewish man in the 1960 film version of William Inges’ play “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs ”.
She was nominated for best supporting actress two years later for her role as a woman seduced and abandoned by Paul Newman in the 1962 film “Sweet Bird of Youth”, based on the play Tennessee Williams.
As success showed in 1960, she told columnist Hedda Hopper that she found it difficult to keep a regular keel and continue to improve as an actress.
“So many actors, once famous, lose something beautiful, something they should strive to keep,” she said. “They’re starting to think too much about themselves and success.”
For a while, she lived in New York, where she studied with Lee Strasberg. She declined an offer to play Ophelia to Richard Burton’s Hamlet, preferring to appear on Broadway in 1964 with Geraldine Page and Kim Stanley in Anton Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters”, a play directed by Strasberg.
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Her beauty helped her bring her roles to movies such as “The Group” (1966), based on Mary McCarthy’s novel about the life of a group of college girls, and “Dutchman” (1967), from the explosive play in an act of Amiri Baraka on a black middle-class man and a sexually provocative white woman. After playing a pregnant woman who fled with a football player in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Rain People”, released in 1969, she got tired of the Hollywood routine, calling the studio bosses “tadpoles”.
Knight moved to England with her second husband, British playwright John Hopkins, with whom she had a daughter, Sophie. (Her first husband was producer Gene Persson, father of her eldest daughter, Kaitlin).
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Over the next few years, she raised her daughters and did needlework. But “I decided that playing was the best I could do,” she said. The family returned to the United States and returned to the movies in “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure”. She has also appeared in films such as “Endless Love” (as the mother of Brooke Shields), “As Good as It Gets” (as the mother of Helen Hunt) and “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood “
During this time, she flourished on stage and on television. She won a Tony Award in 1976 as the best actress in a play for “Kennedy’s Children”. Knight played, in the words of the New York Times magazine, “a very tart pie with a golden ambition. “
She was nominated for another Tony in 1997 for best actress in Horton Foote’s “The Young Man From Atlanta”. As the Times said, “the splendid Mrs. Knight, who never loses a single flutter, brings an ibsenesque weight to a woman frozen in the role of petulant, spoiled child.”
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Knight’s television career began in the mid-1950s and caught the attention of Emmy voters from the 1980s. She was nominated for eight times at the Emmy Awards from 1981 to 2006. She won a guest actress Emmy in 1988 for playing Mel Harris’ mother in “Thirtysomething”, then won two Emmy Awards in the same year, 1995: one for the role of a supporting actress in the television drama “Indictment: The Trial McMartin “, and a second for the role of a guest actress as a murder victim in” NYPD Blue “.
She was born Shirley Enola Knight on July 5, 1936, in the Kansas countryside, 16 kilometers from the city of Lyon. Her family was musical and she learned to sing, dance and play instruments.
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She was the first in her family to enter college, winning a scholarship to a religious college in Enid, Oklahoma, and then moved to Wichita State University. She appeared in 32 pieces in two years and made two seasons of summer stock.
She wanted to become an opera singer, then went into comedy when she saw Julie Harris in a tour company of “The Lark”. She traveled west to study theater at the Pasadena Playhouse. Warner Bros. signed him a contract.
The late Associated Press writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.
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