Oscar-winning actress Shelley Winters died today at the age of 85 of heart failure, after being hospitalized for a heart attack in October. Winters won Oscars in 1959 for The Diary of Anne Frank, and in 1965 for A Patch of Blue, in which she played a mother who tries to end her blind daughter's friendship with a black man, played by Sidney Poitier. During Winters' long career, she evolved from a buxom sexpot to a serious dramatic actress. She was a devotee of The Actors Studio, and constantly challenged herself to find new ways to perform and reinvent herself. She continued working into her 70s, playing Roseanne's grandmother in a recurring role on the television show Roseanne in the 1990s.
The first time I knew of Winters was when she played the evil Lena Gogan in Pete's Dragon in 1977. My grandmother took me to that film, and I remember her expressing her shock at how Winters had changed. I didn't believe her when she said Winters had been known as a sex symbol, and so after the movie, my grandmother pulled out her photo albums of herself as a teenage chorus line dancer, so I could understand how people age and change. Shelley Winters represented my first childhood understanding that someday I would grow old; later in life, as she continued to act and challenge herself in new ways, she came to represent to me resilience in the face of change. She never stopped working and trying new things and starting from where she was at each point of her life to explore what she could do. She wrote several "tell all" books about Hollywood that ticked some people off too - she was never afraid to speak up and say what she thought, even if it meant offending people.