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‘Red Rocket’ Breakout Brenda Deiss, Who Played Lil in Sean Baker’s Film, Dead at 60

The unexpected star who played the no-nonsense, foul-mouthed matriarch died following complications from a stroke.

Red Rocket

“Red Rocket”

Screenshot/A24

Brenda Deiss, the unexpected star who played the no-nonsense, foul-mouthed matriarch “Lil” in Sean Baker’s “Red Rocket,” has died following complications from a stroke, as announced February 16.

The former NASA secretary was 60 years old.

Writer-director Baker confirmed the news on Wednesday, tweeting a statement in Deiss’ honor.

“I have some very sad news to report. Brenda Deiss, who played Lil in ‘Red Rocket,’ passed away on Monday [February 14] after suffering a stroke,” Baker wrote. “I remember every detail of the moment Brenda and I met. It was a chance meeting in her hometown of Texas City, TX. Her incredible energy and carefree spirit made an indelible impression on me. This led us to working together but more importantly getting to know an incredible woman who was full of heart, wonder, and love.”

Baker added, “In the short time we spent together, she created with us, laughed with us and shared her stories with us, some of them heartbreaking and others insightful and fascinating. We all have people in our lives that change it for the better and Brenda was one of those people for me. I will miss her dearly.”

“Red Rocket” starred mostly non-professional actors. Baker connected with Deiss while scouting Texas locations for the film, starring Simon Rex as an ex-porn star who returns to his hometown. Deiss was cast as an eccentric Texan matriarch and Rex’s onscreen mother-in-law. IndieWire’s David Ehlrich called Deiss “a phenomenal local discovery” with a scene-stealing performance.

The film was shot in September and October of 2020 before premiering at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival with an A24 theatrical release.

Deiss was born in Texas on September 9, 1961. Although Deiss never saw “Red Rocket,” she reportedly told the cast and crew that she gave her “unconditional love” to the set, especially when performing the hymn “Hallelujah Square.”

Bree Elrod, who played Deiss’ daughter in the film, said in a statement, “We shared a lot of memorable moments together on and off screen. l will never forget her laugh, the stories she so generously shared, and the many conversations we had about all aspects of life. She holds a very special place in my heart. I will miss her very much.”

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