Shelley Duvall Dies; The Shining Actress Dead At 75

Actress Shelley Duvall, arguably best known for her role as the loving wife turned trembling attempted murder survivor Wendy Torrance in the 1980 film "The Shining" died Thursday, July 11, 2024, in her sleep, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 75 years old. According to what her long-time partner, Dan Gilroy, told the outlet, her cause of death was issues stemming from diabetes. 

Duvall made her mark in several films in the 1970s, culminating in "The Shining," before her acting roles became fewer and farther between in the 1980s and into the early 90s. In more recent memory, the actress had made her mental illnesses known, going on "Dr. Phil" in 2016 admitting, "I need help." In April 2024 in an interview with The New York Times, she was described as having mobility issues but spent a lot of her time driving around and smoking cigarettes while making visits in her Toyota 4Runner in rural Texas where she lived. 

Gilroy, who'd been with the actress since 1989, acknowledged that she had been unwell recently, stating to The Hollywood Reporter, "My dear, sweet, wonderful life partner and friend left us. Too much suffering lately, now she's free. Fly away, beautiful Shelley."

Shelley Duvall was not an actress when she was discovered at a party

Shelley Duvall was born July 7, 1949, and hails from Fort Worth, Texas. Her first acting credit appeared in 1970 when she played Suzanne in a film called "Brewster McCloud." Duvall wasn't seeking an acting career though. According to Biography, she'd done a couple of high school plays and was in college studying diet and nutrition when she was discovered at a party for her then-fiancé, Bernard Sampson. The scouts worked for director Robert Altman, who ultimately cast her in "Brewster McCloud" and subsequently made her the star of several of his movies, including "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" in 1971, "Thieves Like Us" in 1974, "Nashville" in 1975, "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson," in 1976, "Three Women" in 1977, and the musical film "Popeye" in 1980, a role for which her lanky limbs and slight figure seemed perfectly matched to the classic cartoon character Olive Oyl opposite Robin Williams' Popeye.

Duvall also caught the eye of Woody Allen who cast her in "Annie Hall" in 1977. In 1981, she starred alongside Sean Connery and John Cleese in "Time Bandits," but in the 1980s most of Duvall's acting credits shifted more to the realm of TV. In that decade she also formed two different production companies that created children's shows. 

Shelley Duvall said people turned on her

It's not uncommon for actors and actresses who were once big stars in certain eras to fade out of the spotlight. There are a variety of reasons for that, but according to an April 2024 interview she did with The New York Times, it wasn't the usual trope of aging that drove her out of the industry. Rather, she attributed it to violence. "I was a star," she said. "I had leading roles. People think it's just aging, but it's not. It's violence."

What she said she meant by that is not physical violence, but more mental and emotional. She elaborated in vague terms on what she meant by saying, "How would you feel if people were really nice, and then, suddenly, on a dime, they turn on you? You would never believe it unless it happens to you. That's why you get hurt, because you can't really believe it's true."

It's not too difficult to imagine feeling that way if you were plucked from your hometown with little acting experience only to become the muse of a famed director. That clout, along with having that certain something for the time meant Duvall was cast in a variety of acting roles and among Hollywood A-Listers for a time, only for it all to culminate in being nominated for the Golden Raspberry award, or "Razzie" for the most challenging role of her life. 

Making The Shining was grueling for Shelley Duvall

In 1981, Shelley Duvall was nominated for the Worst Actress award for her role in "The Shining." The film itself was also initially panned, no matter how the Stephen King novel adaptation has become a horror classic since then. Duvall chalks her performance up to "almost unbearable" set conditions, as she told Roger Ebert in 1980. It's well-documented by now that Duvall endured overtly harsh treatment from Kubrick on set, as he required stars to stay in character most of the time (this is also known as method acting).

"In my character, I had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week," she said. "I was there a year and a month, and there must be something to Primal Scream therapy because after the day was over and I'd cried for my 12 hours, I went home very contented. It had a very calming effect. During the day I would have been absolutely miserable."

In 2022 Duvall's Razzie nomination was rescinded in light of the changing times. A statement from the organization said, "We have since discovered that Duvall's performance was impacted by Stanley Kubrick's treatment of her throughout the production. We would like to take this opportunity to rescind that nomination ..." 

Shelley Duvall's shocking interview on Dr. Phil

While Shelley Duvall kept her career going through the early 90s, she pretty much vanished from the public eye following her LA home being damaged in the Northridge Earthquake in '94. Her brother became seriously ill around the same time, and those events were the deciding factors in her decision to move back to Texas. But it was also in Texas where her mental health declined. 

Dan Gilroy explained to The New York Times, "She became paranoid and just kind of delusional, thinking she was being attacked. She tried to make calls to the FBI and asked our neighbor to protect us. It was just shocking that, suddenly, from normal, it went south like that," he said. 

Duvall publicly sought help in 2016 from TV's Dr. Phil McGraw in an unsettling interview in which her mental illness was very much on display. Some accused the show of exploiting the sick, aging actress, including Stanley Kubrick's daughter Vivian Kubrick, who said in a social media post on X (formerly known as Twitter), "You are putting Shelley Duvall 'on show' while she is suffering from a pitiable state of ill health. Unquestionably, this is purely a form of lurid and exploitive entertainment — it's appallingly cruel ... I recoil in complete disgust." 

Duvall told The Hollywood Reporter in 2021 of McGraw, "I found out the kind of person he is the hard way." McGraw though, told CNN's Chris Wallace that outside of that interview they worked with Duvall and her family for a year, saying of his critics, none of them did anything to help her. 

Shelley Duvall was in hospice care in the months before she died

Living with diabetes diagnoses, a smoking habit, and mental illness at 75 years old, Shelley Duvall's last days were likely unpleasant. According to NBC, Gilroy, who had been Duvall's companion since 1989, told the outlet that she'd been in hospice care in the months leading up to her death and was unable to get out of bed. Though it was clear she was not going to get better, Gilroy was already feeling her absence deeply, saying, "She's gone after much suffering. I can't tell you much how much I miss her."

Like with most celebrity deaths, fans and other celebrities took to social media to express their feelings about Duvall's passing. Stephen King, who was famously displeased with Kubrick's adaptation of his novel, wrote on X, "Very sorry Shelly Duvall has passed. Wonderful, talented, underused actor." Mia Farrow posted something similar on X, saying, "Very very sad to hear that the unique and truly wonderful actor- Shelley Duvall has died. She leaves us many unforgettable performances."

Though Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, his official X account also left a statement. Calling her career "varied and long," they used the opportunity to point out that Duvall has said she didn't regret working with Kubrick on The Shining. The post reads: "Despite being dogged with exaggerations of her treatment on set, Shelley was always vocal about her experience filming The Shining saying she 'wouldn't trade it for anything' because 'working with loveable Stanley was a fascinating learning experience.'"