RIP Shelley Duvall, 1949-2024

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I remember going to the theater in 1980 to see Robert Altman’s “Popeye.” It was a great film, fun, rambunctious, and did full credit to the original comic strip and cartoons. I went to see the movie because of Robin Williams, who was in his first major big-screen role, and he was great as the famous sailor, muttering to himself in traditional Popeye fashion, with such gems as “What kinds of name is Olives Oyl? Sounds like some kind of lubrikansk” and “I yam disgustipated!”

But it was Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl who stole the show. 

 On Thursday morning, we were saddened to see that Shelley Duvall has passed, at age 75, from complications of diabetes. The world of film is poorer for her passing.

Shelley Duvall, best known for her roles in “The Shining” and several acclaimed Robert Altman films, has died, according to reports, citing a family spokesperson and her longtime partner.

She was 75.

Duvall died in her sleep at their home in Blanco, Texas of complications of diabetes, Dan Gilroy, her life partner of more than 30 years, told The Hollywood Reporter.

“My dear, sweet, wonderful life partner and friend left us,” Gilroy said. “Too much suffering lately, now she’s free. Fly away, beautiful Shelley.”

Also in 1980, Shelley starred in the chilling “The Shining” and managed to hold her own in that film against, of all people, Jack Nicholson.

Known for her thin physique, large expressive eyes and powerful performances, Duvall was a standout playing opposite in Jack Nicholson in the horror film “The Shining” and Robin Williams in the comedy “Popeye.” 

But hardcore fans of cinema also recognized her for her professional partnership with acclaimed filmmaker Altman, who first cast her as the love interest in the 1970 film, “Brewster McCloud.”

And, of course, that breakthrough role in “Brewster McCloud” showcased her big eyes, expressive face, and wide smile.

Miss Duvall wasn’t a classic Hollywood beauty. She was adorable rather than stunning, but she was always worth watching, and in a time when Hollywood celebrities seem to feel the need to interject politics into everything, Shelley kept her views mostly to herself.

Hollywood, these days, is losing a lot of its charm and appeal to many folks.

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But Shelley Duvall was one of the people who just made movies, and she was always worth watching. From the waiflike Suzanne in “Brewster McCloud” to the neck-craning Olive Oyl in “Popeye” to Dixie in 1987’s “Roxanne,” that wonderful modern-day retelling of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” Shelley Duvall always brought a spark of life to anything she appeared in. Reportedly, she suffered from physical and mental troubles later in life, which may well explain her withdrawal from show business for so long, but none of that matters now, and we can hope that she is at peace.

If, this weekend, you’re looking for a movie, consider one of her works. “Popeye,” perhaps, or “Roxanne,” both of which showcase everything Shelley Duvall could bring to the big screen. That’s the best way we can commemorate the passing of one of the last adherents to old-school show business. 

RIP, Shelley.

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