Thursday 19 September 2019

Obituary: Margot Kidder

Actress who played Lois Lane in 'Superman', but struggled with mental illness

SUPERMAN CURSE: Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve appear at an awards ceremony in Los Angeles in 1978
SUPERMAN CURSE: Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve appear at an awards ceremony in Los Angeles in 1978

Margot Kidder, the actress, who died last Sunday aged 69, was best known for her star turn as the intrepid Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, the girl who won Superman's heart, in four blockbusters starring Christopher Reeve as the all-American Man of Steel; she later succumbed to what some described as the "curse of Superman", including suffering a highly-publicised nervous breakdown in 1996.

Margot Kidder first stepped into the role in the 1978 film Superman when, as the flawed, human counterweight to the boy scout from the planet Krypton, she showed herself more than his equal in spiky wit and charisma if not in gravity-defying superpowers.

She reprised the part in sequels in 1980, 1983 and 1987 and also took roles in other films such as the cult classic The Amityville Horror, in which she and James Brolin played a newly-wed couple who buy an old house, only for the building's grisly past to turn their dream home into a nightmare.

But by the time she appeared as Lois Lane, the Superman franchise had already acquired a reputation for being unlucky for those involved. George Reeves, who played the superhero on television, died of a gunshot wound in 1959 under circumstances which remain disputed. Kirk Alyn, who took the role in film serials in the late 1940s, died of Alzheimer's; both claimed that Superman had destroyed their acting careers.

Later on Christopher Reeve would end up in a wheelchair after being paralysed in a riding accident, while Richard Pryor would have multiple sclerosis diagnosed three years after co-starring in Superman III in 1983.

Like others, the Canadian-born Margot Kidder never matched her early success as Lois Lane. Instead, she laboured in uninspiring television films and flops, while going through several marriages and facing a drink problem.

In 1990 she damaged her spinal cord in a car accident while filming a television series based on the Nancy Drew mysteries. Confined for two years to a wheelchair, she could not work, while a gap in her health insurance meant that the actress who had once earned $100,000 a week had to pay her own medical bills. The result was bankruptcy, and she was forced to sell off her jewellery and move into a Los Angeles bedsit.

She had been largely forgotten when in 1996 she was committed to a mental hospital after being found in the throes of a full-blown psychotic episode, "dishevelled, delusional and paranoid", in the bushes of a suburban back garden outside Los Angeles, convinced that she was being pursued by the CIA.

Dressed only in rags, which she had swapped for her own clothes in a barter with a tramp in an attempt at disguise, she had shaved off all her hair and appeared to have lost two front teeth. "I was like one of those ladies you see talking to the space aliens on the street corner in New York," she recalled.

Though later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, by 2000 she appeared to be making a full recovery, claiming that her "periodic bungee jumps into craziness" were a thing of the past. "If you're gonna fall apart," she joked, "do it in your own bedroom."

She announced that she had ditched conventional psychiatric treatments in favour of "orthomolecular medicine", a form of alternative medicine involving nutritional supplements. She became a spokesman for an American website promoting "alternative mental health", and a political activist, campaigning on environmental issues and in support of the Democrat Bernie Sanders in the 2016 US presidential election.

Meanwhile, she returned to acting, guest-starring in television series, performing in a 2002 Broadway production of The Vagina Monologues, and winning an Emmy in 2015 for her performance in the children's television series RL Stine's The Haunting Hour.

The daughter of a mining engineer, Margaret Ruth Kidder was born in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories of Canada, on October 17, 1948. As the family moved around for her father's job, she attended 11 different schools. From her teens she suffered from mental health problems, making a suicide attempt at the age of 14.

She broke into film acting in the late 1960s, beginning with a role as a prostitute in Norman Jewison's Gaily, Gaily (1969), before appearing with Gene Wilder in the comedy Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx in 1970. She won praise for her performance as a model and her murderous separated conjoined twin, in Brian De Palma's Sisters (1973), for her ability to "turn on sexiness with a witch's precision".

In the early 1970s, with her fellow actress Jennifer Salt, she shared a beach house north of Malibu - the venue for wild parties. Steven Spielberg once described it as "a little bit of Woodstock on Nicholas Beach Road".

Her first marriage, to the writer Tom McGuane, with whom she had a daughter, lasted less than a year. Her second, to the actor John Heard, lasted six days, and her third, to the filmmaker Philippe de Broca, ended after a year.

© Telegraph

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top