Karen Black was in the right movies at the right time to
guarantee herself at least a footnote in film history.
Indeed, you could argue that Black – who lost her long
battle with cancer Thursday at age 74 — earned her iconic status as a screen
queen of the New Hollywood era just on the basis of three roles: A skittish
prostitute who takes a very bad acid trip (along with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper)
in a New Orleans cemetery in Easy Rider (1969); a coolly glamorous country
music star who stokes the paranoia of an unstable rival (Renee Blakely) in
Nashville (1975); and, most important, an emotionally clingy waitress who loves
not wisely but too well when she falls for a classical pianist turned
white-trash rowdy (Jack Nicholson) in Five Easy Pieces (1970).
But wait: There was more.
Black also brought captivating shadings of intelligence and
vulnerability to stock-issue “girlfriend” roles opposite George Segal as a
hairdresser turned junkie in Born to Win (a flawed but fascinating 1971 drama
widely available in DVD editions that emphasize then-unknown co-star Robert
DeNiro), and Kris Kristofferson (in his movie starring debut) as a down-on-his-luck
musician exploited by a crooked narc (Gene Hackman) in 1972’s Cisco Pike.
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