Piper Laurie, the strong-willed, Oscar-nominated actor who performed in acclaimed roles despite at one point abandoning acting altogether in search of a “more meaningful” life, died early Saturday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 91.
Laurie died of old age, her manager, Marion Rosenberg, told The Associated Press via email, adding that she was “a superb talent and a wonderful human being.”
Laurie arrived in Hollywood in 1949 as Rosetta Jacobs and was quickly given a contract with Universal-International, a new name that she hated and a string of starring roles with Ronald Reagan, Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis, among others.
She went on to receive Academy Award nominations for three distinct films: The 1961 poolroom drama “The Hustler”; the film version of Stephen King’s horror classic “Carrie,” in 1976; and the romantic drama “Children of a Lesser God,” in 1986. She also appeared in several acclaimed roles on television and the stage, including in David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” in the 1990s as the villainous Catherine Martell.
Laurie made her debut at 17 in “Louisa,” playing Reagan’s daughter, then appeared opposite Francis the talking mule in “Francis Goes to the Races.” She made several films with Curtis, whom she once dated, including “The Prince Who Was a Thief,” “No Room for the Groom,” “Son of Ali Baba” and “Johnny Dark.”
Fed up, she walked out on her $2,000-a-week contract in 1955, vowing she wouldn’t work again unless offered a decent part.
She moved to New York, where she found the roles she was seeking in theater and live television drama.
Performances in “Days of Wine and Roses,” “The Deaf Heart” and “The Road That Led After” brought her Emmy nominations and paved the way for a return to films, including in an acclaimed role as Paul Newman’s troubled girlfriend in “The Hustler.”
For many years after, Laurie turned her back on acting. She married film critic Joseph Morgenstern, welcomed a daughter, Ann Grace, and moved to a farmhouse in Woodstock, New York. She said later that the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War had influenced her decision to make the change.
“I was disenchanted and looking for an existence more meaningful for me,” she recalled, adding that she never regretted the move.
“My life was full,” she said in 1990. “I always liked using my hands, and I always painted.”
Laurie also became noted as a baker, with her recipes appearing in The New York Times.
Her only performing during that time came when she joined a dozen musicians and actors in a tour of college campuses to support Sen. George McGovern’s 1972 presidential bid.
Laurie was finally ready to return to acting when director Brian De Palma called her about playing the deranged mother of Sissy Spacek in “Carrie.”
At first she felt the script was junk, and then she decided she should play the role for laughs. Not until De Palma chided her for putting a comedic turn on a scene did she realize he meant the film to be a thriller.
“Carrie” became a box-office smash, launching a craze for movies about teenagers in jeopardy, and Spacek and Laurie were both nominated for Academy Awards.
Her desire to act rekindled, Laurie resumed a busy career that spanned decades. On television, she appeared in such series as “Matlock,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Frasier” and played George Clooney’s mother on “ER.”
Bob Thomas, a longtime and now deceased staffer of The Associated Press, was the principal writer of this obituary. Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed from Des Moines, Iowa.