One of the most distinctive screen presences in the history of movies has died. Shelley Duvall, best known for a string of films she made with director Robert Altman in the 1970s, and for her unforgettable performance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining passed away this week. She was 75 years old.

Her longtime partner, Dan Gilroy, told The Hollywood Reporter that Duvall “died in her sleep of complications from diabetes at her home in Blanco, Texas.”

Born in Fort Worth in 1949, Duvall was attending junior college when she met Altman while he was filming Brewster McCloud in Texas. Altman and his crew encouraged her to become an actress and to appear in the film, which she did. Just like that, she became a core member of Altman’s repertory company all throughout the 1970s.

In addition to Brewster McCloud, she also appeared in his McCabe & Mrs. Miller in 1971, Thieves Like Us in 1974, Buffalo Bill and the Indians in 1976 and 3 Women in 1977, where she played one of three lead roles in a film that is now widely regarded as one of Altman’s best.

Duvall then worked with Altman again in 1980, playing Olive Oyl in his big-budget, live-action, musical version of Popeye opposite Robin Williams. Her role included the unforgettable musical number “He’s Large.”

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By the early 1980s other directors began casting Duvall in their films. She appeared in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits and, most famously, as Wendy Torrance, the tortured wife of alcoholic Overlook Hotel caretaker Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Duvall is astonishing in The Shining, but making the movie was not an easy experience. The notoriously exacting Kubrick demanded dozens of takes until he felt he got a perfect one — which meant Duvall spent hours and hours for days and days, and then weeks and months, worked up in a frenzy, acting as if she was being assaulted by her husband.

In a rare interview in 2021, Duvall told The Hollywood Reporter...

[Kubrick] doesn’t print anything until at least the 35th take. Thirty-five takes, running and crying and carrying a little boy, it gets hard. And full performance from the first rehearsal. That’s difficult ... after a while, your body rebels. It says: ‘Stop doing this to me. I don’t want to cry every day.’ And sometimes just that thought alone would make me cry. To wake up on a Monday morning, so early, and realize that you had to cry all day because it was scheduled — I would just start crying. I’d be like, ‘Oh no, I can’t, I can’t.’ And yet I did it. I don’t know how I did it.

Although she did not deny the toll The Shining took on her mental and emotional state at the time, in the same interview she also claimed Kubrick was “very warm and friendly” toward her on set,” and would want to spend hours talking to her and Nicholson about crafting the film.

By the late 1980s, Duvall started her own production company, Think Entertainment, through which she produced children’s shows and movies like Mother Goose Rock ’n’ Rhyme. But by the 1990s, her output in front of and behind the camera slowed, and by the early 2000s she had left Hollywood completely, only returning very sporadically.

In 2016 she appeared for an interview on Dr. Phil in an appearance that drew a lot of attention (and some controversy) because it appeared that Duvall may have been suffering from an untreated mental illness. (“I found out the kind of person [Dr. Phil] is the hard way,” Duvall told THR in 2021.)

Duvall may never have set out to be an actress, but she turned out to be one of the finest of her era. Those movies she made with Altman and Kubrick are timeless, and so is her work in them.

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