Fletcher received an Oscar for playing Nurse Ratched in the 1975 movie, which became a cultural icon.
The deceased was Louise Fletcher. Fletcher, a seasoned performer with more than 100 credits, is most remembered for her Oscar-winning role as the serenely diabolical Nurse Ratched in the 1975 film One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, in which she played one of cinema’s greatest unexpected villains.
In addition to that breakout role, Fletcher participated in a plethora of other movies and TV shows. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, she established herself as one of the best villains in the entire Star Trek franchise as the cunning and manipulative Kai Winn. Variety reports that Fletcher passed away earlier today at her home in France. She was 88.
Fletcher, who was raised by two deaf parents, was introduced to theatre by a hearing aunt who also taught her how to talk. After graduating from college, she moved to Los Angeles and started acting in TV roles, frequently in Westerns like Bat Masterson and Lawman.
(In a 1975 New York Times interview, Fletcher stated that she had an easier time landing Western roles since the leads tended to be taller and that at 5’10”, she was frequently viewed as being too tall to portray a love interest for Hollywood’s leading men.)
After getting married to film producer Jerry Bick in 1960, Fletcher took an 11-year break from performing to raise their two children.
When she returned, one of her first jobs was working on a movie by Robert Altman, a longtime friend of Bick’s who placed Fletcher in a supporting role in his 1973 film Thieves Like Us.
After the director and Bick had a falling out, it appears that plans to star Fletcher in Altman’s Nashville were abandoned; Fletcher and Bick would later be divorced in 1977.
Director Milo Forman saw Fletcher’s performance in Thieves and added her to his list of potential Nurse Ratcheds for his future production of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, so Nashville’s loss was another film’s gain. Fletcher ultimately won the role—and the Best Actress Oscar—despite the fact that several other performers were considered for (and declined) the role.
Almost 50 years later, Fletcher’s portrayal of the part is still horrifying: She carefully monitors the patients she is responsible for, maintains snake-like stillness during crucial moments, and then strikes precisely at their weak points in a surface-sweet portrayal of institutional evil.
And in Fletcher’s hands, she never conveys anything less than the utmost conviction that she is acting in the interests of everyone involved. She is absolutely necessary for the movie to succeed—and it would not have been as well-received or as successful at the box office without her.
Fletcher’s career remained much as it had before after collecting her Oscar in 1975, working consistently all the way up to her final job in 2017. During her victory speech, she took a brief moment to sign a thank-you note to her parents.
She featured in a variety of films along the way, including Shameless, where she played the tough-as-nails and profane mother to William H. Macy’s Frank (in a character that at least had a whiff of Ratched about it).
“My granddaughter cannot ever watch this show,” Fletcher said in 2012. She was particularly well-remembered by nerds for her multi-season appearance on Deep Space Nine, where she once again used “sweetness” and condescension as a weapon to make Kai Winn, the Bajoran spiritual leader, a monster who couldn’t be easily phased or torpedoed.
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