Born: July 1, 1939; Died: August 8, 2013.
Karen Black, who has died of cancer aged 74, had as much claim to being the female face of the New Hollywood films of the 1960s and 1970s as Jane Fonda or Faye Dunaway. She was never a classic Hollywood beauty, but she featured in two of the classic movies that represented a seismic change in the industry and its attitudes at the end of the 1960s.
She played the small, but memorable role of a hooker who drops acid with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in a New Orleans cemetery in Easy Rider (1969), the low-budget hit that forced the industry to rethink its audience, its values and its entire economic model.
And she had a major role in Five Easy Pieces (1970) as the waitress Jack Nicholson charms, impregnates and in the end dumps by the roadside.
Black seemed to be ubiquitous throughout the remainder of the 1970s, appearing in about 30 films in the course of the decade.
Her lips were routinely described as full, her hair looked like it had just exploded and her intense eyes seemed just a little off-kilter. The effect could be unnerving or oddly sexy.
The American film critic and historian Leonard Maltin puts his finger on her appeal to the new generation of film directors when he said: "She came along at just the right time, as American cinema was changing in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
"She didn't have a lacquered Hollywood look or demeanour. She seemed like a real person, and that was exactly what the young filmmakers whose careers were blossoming at the time were looking for."
It was Francis Ford Coppola who gave Black her first significant film role when he cast her in You're a Big Boy Now (1966) but it was not only the young guys who fell for her charms. Alfred Hitchcock, a man noted for his rather dubious relationships with a series of stunningly beautiful, blonde leading ladies, gave her a starring role in his last movie, Family Plot (1976).
Black excelled at playing both ordinary and extraordinary people. Rarely the main star of a film, she was nevertheless one of the foremost character actresses of the era.
She played waitresses, prostitutes and delusional dreamers and won Golden Globes for Five Easy Pieces and The Great Gatsby (1974), in which she played the ill-fated adulteress Myrtle Wilson, whose death sets off the final tragic cycle of events.
The daughter of a businessman, she was born Karen Blanche Ziegler in the town of Park Ridge, just outside Chicago in 1939. She went to Northwestern University in Illinois and studied drama at the famous Actors Studio in New York.
In the early 1960s she appeared in a string of off-Broadway productions. By that time she was married to the first of her four husbands and she took his surname Black. She made an impact on Broadway in The Playroom in 1965, got her film break courtesy of Francis Ford Coppola and started picking up regular television work, appearing in series such as The Big Valley and The Invaders in 1967.
After Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, she seemed to be in just about every new film coming out of Hollywood. She had major roles in Jack Nicholson's directorial debut Drive, He Said (1971), the Johnny Cash-Kirk Douglas western A Gunfight (1971), Portnoy's Complaint (1972), The Outfit (1973), The Day of the Locust (1975), Robert Altman's Nashville (1975), for which she wrote her own songs, and the conspiracy drama Capricorn One (1977).
Many of her films from that period have stood the test of time, though certainly not all. She was especially good at losers, but she had a rare chance to play the heroine in Airport 1975, a very silly sequel to the original 1970 film. She played the stewardess who takes over the stricken aircraft after the pilot, co-pilot and most of the other crew are killed or incapacitated.
The television film Trilogy of Terror (1975), in which Black had several roles, and then Burnt Offerings (1976), with Bette Davis and Oliver Reed, saw her moving from groundbreaking contemporary drama into the horror genre.
Over the years, Black became a cult star of the horror genre and was the sinister Mother Firefly in Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses (2003). She reckoned horror directors liked her because her name was Black.
She continued acting until quite recently and has almost 200 films and television shows listed to her name. In 2010 she was diagnosed with ampullary cancer. Earlier this year a public appeal raised more than $60,000 towards the cost of care and treatment.
She is survived by her fourth husband, Stephen Eckelberry, a film editor, to whom she had been married for 26 years, by their daughter, and by two children from previous relationships.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.