Piper Laurie, the celebrated actress known for her chilling portrayal of the overbearingly religious mother in “Carrie” and for playing Paul Newman’s down-in-the-dumps girlfriend in “The Hustler,” has died at 91, her manager said.
Laurie died early Saturday in Los Angeles, her manager, Marion Rosenberg, confirmed to CNN. No cause of death was provided.
Laurie will be remembered as “one of the finest actresses of her generation and a superb human being,” Rosenberg said.
Turner Classic Movies, which, like CNN, is part of Warner Brothers Discovery, called Laurie “one of the most celebrated and formidable actresses of the last half-century.” The network praised her “full-blooded performances as flawed, often ferocious women.”
Though she began as a teen starlet in the 1950s, Laurie took a prolonged hiatus from Hollywood after becoming disillusioned by the industry’s treatment of her as a young actress and the flatness of the female roles she was offered. When she reemerged more than a decade later, she quickly reestablished herself through striking embodiments of complex – and sometimes tormented – women.
Critics and colleagues took note: Laurie received Oscar nominations for her riveting performances in “The Hustler” (1961) and “Carrie” (1976). Her third nomination was for her portrayal of a remorseful mother in “Children of a Lesser God” (1986).
She was awarded a Golden Globe for her performance as a vengeful mill owner in television’s “Twin Peaks,” in addition to two Emmy nominations.
Born as Rosetta Jacobs in Detroit in 1932, she assumed the name Piper Laurie at the urging of a manager when she began professionally acting, she wrote in her memoir, “Learning to Live Out Loud.”
After signing a contract with Universal-International (now Universal Studios) at age 17, Laurie starred opposite actors including Newman, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis and Ronald Reagan.
“It would be a very long time before life would teach me that it was okay to fight for what I wanted. At seventeen, I still thought that being a good person and working hard were enough,” she wrote in her memoir.
The disillusionment set in almost immediately, she recalled.
In her first role, as the teenage daughter of Reagan’s character in “Louisa” (1950), Laurie wrote that “every line and moment for the girl seemed like a cartoon.” She added, “I kept trying to think of ways to make her real for myself, but it was a constant struggle on the set.”
“Every role I played was the same girl, no matter whether my co-star was Rock Hudson or Tony Curtis or Rory Calhoun,” Laurie told The New York Times in 1977, referring to the films she made under the contract. “She was innocent, sexual, simple — the less intelligent, the better, and complexity was forbidden – and always slender.”
In the mid-1950s, Laurie broke her contract with Universal, only to struggle to get the Hollywood roles she wanted. Instead, she turned to television movies and series.
“It was one thing to finally break free from the studio that had owned me since I was seventeen. It was another thing entirely to put the image Universal had created behind me,” she wrote in the memoir.
She returned briefly to the silver screen in 1961 with “The Hustler” before stepping back from Hollywood films for more than a decade, finally returning in 1976 with her tormenting portrayal of Margaret White, the fanatically evangelical mother in “Carrie.”
Laurie said that filming “Carrie” was the first time she had felt she would actually have fun on a movie set.
“It was a very sweet and sentimental time for me. I felt so welcomed by the crew, a few of whom I had known before. I felt embraced by everyone and especially free to do the work,” Laurie wrote in her memoir.
Laurie married film critic Joe Morgenstern in the early 1960s and the couple later divorced. They share a daughter.
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