Actress Jill Clayburgh Dead at 66

Oscar-Nominated Actress Jill Clayburgh Dies at 66

November 6, 2010, 11:28 AM

Nov. 6, 2010— -- Hollywood and Broadway actress Jill Clayburgh has died at the age of 66 after fighting a 21-year battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Clayburgh died Friday surrounded by family at her home in Lakeville, Conn., according to her husband, Tony Award-winning playwright David Rabe.

Perhaps best-known for her Oscar-nominated role in the 1978 film "An Unmarried Woman," Clayburgh forged a career portraying strong and confident women who were marked by certain flaws.

According to The Associated Press, Rabe said that she dealt with the disease courageously, quietly and privately, "and made it into an opportunity for her children to grow and be human."

In her role in "An Unmarried Women," released at the height of the late-1970s sexual revolution, Clayburgh portrayed a divorcee exploring her sexuality and new identity after her 16-year marriage falls apart. The following year she portrayed a teacher beginning a relationship with a recently divorced man played by Burt Reynolds in the hit "Starting Over;" a role that won her a second Oscar nod.

Most recently she portrayed matriarch Letitia 'Tish' Darling in ABC's 2007 series "Dirty Sexy Money" and will appear in the upcoming film "Love and Other Drugs," where she plays the mother of Jake Gyllenhaal's character.

"There was practically nothing for women to do on the screen in the 1950s and 1960s," Clayburgh said in an interview with The Associated Press while promoting "An Unmarried Woman" in 1978. "Sure, Marilyn Monroe was great, but she had to play a one-sided character, a vulnerable sex object. It was a real fantasy."

In addition to appearing on screen in a number of memorable roles, Clayburgh's Broadway credits include the hit "Design for Living" and the original production of Tom Stoppard's "Jumpers."

Previous to her role on "Dirty Sexy Money," Clayburgh appeared on the hit "Ally McBeal" and received two Emmy nods -- for best actress in 1975 for portraying a tell-it-like-it-is prostitute in the ABC TV film "Hustling," and for her guest turn in 2005 as a vengeful plastic surgery patient on FX's "Nip/Tuck."

Born in New York City in 1944, Clayburgh's father was a vice president of two companies and her mother a secretary for Broadway producer David Merrick and her grandmother was famed Opera singer and New York socialite Alma Clayburgh.

While studying religion, philosophy and literature at Sarah Lawrence College, Clayburgh fell into drama and soon appeared opposite her close friend Robert DeNiro in fellow Sarah Lawrence graduate Brian DePalma's film "The Wedding Party" in 1969.

She soon headed to Broadway where she found work on musicals "Pippin" and "The Rothschilds." She worked steadily on the stage, screen and in television for the next 40 years.

"One of the funny things about actors is that people look at their careers in retrospect, as if they have a plan," she said in a 2005 interview. "Mostly you just get a call. You're just sitting there going, 'Oh, my God. I'm never going to work again. Oh, God. I'm too old. Maybe I should go and work for Howard Dean.' And then it changes."

She is survived by three children, including actress Lily Rabe, Michael Rabe and stepson Jason Rabe.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events