Carrie Snodgress

Actress best known for 'Diary of a Mad Housewife'
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For her performance in Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), the husky-voiced Carrie Snodgress was nominated for an Oscar as best actress, but at that high point in her career she gave it all up when she fell in love with the rock star Neil Young. For nearly seven years she travelled with him, shared his northern California ranch and raised their son, Zeke, who was born with cerebral palsy. When she resumed her career she never again attained such a high professional stature, though she later insisted that she had no regrets, asserting, "My life came first."

Caroline Snodgress, actress: born Barrington, Illinois 27 October 1946; married 1981 Robert Jones (one son with Neil Young); died Los Angeles 1 April 2004.

For her performance in Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), the husky-voiced Carrie Snodgress was nominated for an Oscar as best actress, but at that high point in her career she gave it all up when she fell in love with the rock star Neil Young. For nearly seven years she travelled with him, shared his northern California ranch and raised their son, Zeke, who was born with cerebral palsy. When she resumed her career she never again attained such a high professional stature, though she later insisted that she had no regrets, asserting, "My life came first."

Born in Barrington, Illinois, in 1946, she was educated at Northern Illinois University, then studied at the Goodman Theatre School. She began her acting career on the Chicago stage in such plays as All the Way Home, Caesar and Cleopatra and Oh! What a Lovely War. For her performance in Molière's Tartuffe she won Chicago's highest theatrical accolade, the Sarah Siddons Award, and her success brought her a Hollywood contract with Universal.

Initially, the studio gave her roles in their television series, such as The Virginian, Medical Center and Judd, for the Defense, plus a television movie, The Whole World is Watching (1969), starring Burl Ives. She made her big-screen début opposite James Caan in Rabbit Run (1970), Jack Smight's patchy version of the John Updike novel about a couple whose marriage begins to disintegrate the moment the wedding ceremony is over.

She was then given the central role of a woman with a domineering husband and a self-absorbed lover in Frank Perry's perceptive black comedy Diary of a Mad Housewife. As the bored housewife and mother who eventually seeks therapy as an escape from the men in her life (played by Richard Benjamin and Frank Langella), Snodgress gave a marvellously shaded and offbeat performance that marked her as a star of the future. The Los Angeles Times critic wrote:

The star system may be dead or dying but there is still no pleasure for the dedicated moviegoer quite like watching a vivid new personality light up the screen.

Apart from her Oscar nomination, she was also nominated for two Golden Globes, as best actress and as best newcomer.

Among those captivated by her performance and personality was Neil Young, who telephoned her asking for a date. Though she barely knew who he was ("I was not a rock 'n' roll girl - I said, 'Neil Young, Neil Young, where do I know that name from?' ") she fell "madly and immediately" in love with him. Turning her back on Hollywood, she walked out on her contract to be with Young, and their son was born in 1972. The relationship ended in 1977, when the couple parted and Snodgress sued Young for child support.

In 1979 she was in the news again when she charged an ex-lover, the composer Jack Nitzsche (who wrote the score for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975), with threatening to kill her after he barged into her house and beat her with a handgun. Nitzsche pleaded guilty to the charge and was fined and put on three years' probation.

When her relationship with Young ended, Snodgress had resumed her acting career with some difficulty. She was about to be signed for a leading role in Rocky (1976) with Sylvester Stallone when a salary dispute terminated negotiations. She appeared instead in a Detroit production of Jack Heifner's popular off-Broadway hit Vanities (1977), about three vacuous Texas belles seen at three stages of their life.

Snodgress then returned to the screen in Brian De Palma's The Fury (1978), one of the director's less succcessful Hitchcockian thrillers, but rumours of drug and alcohol abuse (though she strenuously denied them) and her previous actions were held against her. "If you turn your back," she said, "if you go away once, then you're subject to doing that again any time in your career."

She took roles in low-budget horror movies such as The Attic (1979) and Trick or Treats (1982), plus the lurid A Night in Heaven (1983) starring Christopher Atkins as a male stripper. She had a more prestigious part in Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider (1985), and she had a prominent role as a psychopathic murderess doing battle with cop Charles Bronson in J. Lee Thompson's Murphy's Law (1986). In the nostalgic Blueberry Hill (1988) she was top-billed as a widow consumed by the memory of her husband, and in 1994 she was the friend of a mentally unstable military wife (Jessica Lange) in Tony Richardson's Blue Sky. Her last notable film was Wild Things (1998), a film noir starring Matt Dillon and Neve Campbell.

Snodgress made her Broadway début in A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking (1981), succeeding Susan Sarandon in John Ford Noonan's two-character play about a traditional New York housewife who forms an unlikely alliance with her brash new neighbour from Texas. Most of her later work, though, was in television, with roles in Murder, She Wrote, Quincy, The X-Files, ER, The West Wing and many other series.

She was featured in several television movies, recently playing the abusive mother of the serial killer Ed Gein in In the Light of the Moon (a.k.a. Ed Gein, 2000), and earlier this year she completed Iron Jawed Angels.

In 1981 she married the painter Robert Jones, but they separated after a few years. "My dream," she said recently, "has always been to do my works well, fall in love and build a life for myself." She was in hospital awaiting a liver transplant when she died of heart failure.

Tom Vallance



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