'Five Easy Pieces' actress Karen Black loses cancer fight

Story highlights

  • "She was a stellar person in every area of her life," he agent says
  • Black took her fight to overcome cancer to a crowd-funding website
  • Her "health continued to deteriorate at an alarming pace" recently, her husband says
  • Black was nominated for Oscar for her role in the 1970 film "Five Easy Pieces"

Actress Karen Black's long and public battle with cancer has ended with her death, her agent said Thursday.

Black, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the 1970 film "Five Easy Pieces," was 74.

"She was a stellar person in every area of her life," agent Sarabeth Schedeen wrote. "Smart funny talented tenacious supportive and loving.  Everyone who knew her will miss her."

Black took her fight to overcome her illness to a crowd-funding website earlier this year, raising thousands of dollars to pay for treatments she hoped to get in Europe.

Her husband posted a message to donors Wednesday -- just hours before her death -- explaining that over the last months her "health continued to deteriorate at an alarming pace."

"She became bed-bound: the spreading cancer having eaten away part of a vertebra and nerves in her lower back," husband Stephen Eckelberry wrote. "Her left leg stopped functioning.  We could not go to Europe as we had hoped. It would have been almost impossible to travel to the airport.  So we brought alternative treatments to her bedside."

Black survived weeks longer than doctors predicted, he said. "I can't tell you how many times doctors and nurses have pulled me aside and told me that I better start hospice, as she was about to die."

    She was placed in a nursing facility by the Motion Picture Television Fund recently, he said.

    Eckelberry, a filmmaker, said he captured her struggle over the past three years on film.

    "I hadn't planned on doing anything with the footage, until a few weeks ago, Karen reached out to her old friend, Elliot Mintz," he wrote. "Elliot is considered a media guru who has offered advice to dozens of famous clients over the years including Karen."

    As a result, Black filmed a "deeply moving and candid conversation" with Mintz at her bedside on June 21, which could be released on "the right platform for some kind of presentation."

    Black studied under famed acting coach Lee Strasberg in New York early in her career, while she acted on stage in off-Broadway productions in the early 1960s. She made her Broadway debut in "The Playroom" in 1965.

    Her big screen career began with Francis Ford Coppola's "You're a Big Boy Now" in 1966, but it was her acting opposite Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in "Easy Rider" that brought her attention in 1969. She was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her work with Jack Nicholson in "Five Easy Pieces" a year later.

    Black played a jewel thief in Alfred Hitchcock's last movie, the 1976 film "Family Plot."

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