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Iconic Nurse Ratched actor Louise Fletcher hailed after death at 88

© Allstar/UNITED ARTISTSNurse Mildred Ratched played by Louise Fletcher.
Nurse Mildred Ratched played by Louise Fletcher.

Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher, who shot to prominence as the cruel and calculating Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, has died at 88.

After putting her career on hold for years to raise her children, Fletcher was in her early 40s and little known when chosen for the role opposite Jack Nicholson in the 1975 classic. Her portrayal of one of the big-screen’s most notorious villains won her an Oscar, Golden Globe and Bafta.

She had been cast by director Milos Forman, who had admired her work the year before in director Robert Altman’s Thieves Like Us.

At the time, she did not know that many other prominent stars, including Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn and Angela Lansbury, had turned it down.

“I was the last person cast,” she recalled in a 2004 interview. “It wasn’t until we were halfway through shooting that I realised the part had been offered to other actresses who didn’t want to appear so horrible on the screen.”

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest went on to become the first film since 1934’s It Happened One Night to win best picture, best director, best actor, best actress and best screenplay.

Clutching her Oscar at the 1976 ceremony, Fletcher told the audience: “It looks as though you all hated me.” She then addressed her deaf parents in Birmingham, Alabama, talking and using sign language: “I want to thank you for teaching me to have a dream.

“You are seeing my dream come true.”

A moment of silence was followed by thunderous applause.

Her death prompted a flood of tributes yesterday with Oscar-winning actor Marlee Matlin posting: “Sad to read of the passing of Louise Fletcher. Brilliant actress and Academy Award winner, I remember her as the daughter of Deaf parents who was the first to sign her acceptance speech at the Oscars.”

Far more than her male peers, Fletcher was hampered by her age in finding major roles in Hollywood but would be nominated for Emmys for her guest roles on the TV series Joan of Arcadia and Picket Fences, and had a recurring role as Bajoran religious leader Kai Winn Adami in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She played the mother of musical duo Carpenters in 1989’s The Karen Carpenter Story.

Fletcher died in her sleep surrounded by family at her home in Montdurausse, France.