Obituary: Shirley Knight, Tony and Emmy-winning US actress

Shirley Knight, a US actress nominated for two Oscars early in her career who went on to play an astonishing variety of roles in movies, TV and the stage, has died. She was 83.

Shirley Knight in 2009 (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Knight’s first Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress came in just her second screen role, 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 the woman seduced by Paul Newman in the 1962 film Sweet Bird of Youth. For a time, she lived in New York, where she studied with Lee Strasberg. Her beauty helped bring her roles in such films as The Group (1966) and Dutchman (1967). After playing a pregnant woman who runs off with a football player in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People, released in 1969, she wearied of the Hollywood routine, calling studio chiefs “blockheads”.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

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 older daughter, Kaitlin. Over the next few years she raised her daughters and did needlework. But “I decided that acting is what I do best,” she said. The family moved back to the US and she returned to films in Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. She also appeared in such movies as Endless Love and As Good as It Gets. Meanwhile, she thrived on stage and TV. She won a Tony award in 1976 as best featured actress in a play for Kennedy’s Children. She won a guest actress Emmy in 1988 and two more in 1995: one for supporting actress and a second for guest actress.

She was born Shirley Enola Knight on 5 July 1936, in Kansas. Her family was musical and she learned to sing, tap dance and play instruments.

Shestudied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse before Warner Bros. signed her to a contract.


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.