Strawberry blonde, freckle-faced, and willowy, Sissy Spacek was among the most popular female stars of the late ’70s and ’80s. The Texas born and bred actress originally aspired to become a singer, and, after heading east to New York, got her start singing at coffee houses in Greenwich Village. Billing herself as “Rainbo,” Spacek also cut a single, “Johnny, You Went Too Far This Time.” On the side, she earned money by recording backup vocals on television commercials.
When the acting bug bit, Spacek enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theatrical Institute. While she technically made her film debut as an extra in Andy Warhol’s Trash (1971), her official debut is listed as Michael Ritchie’s Prime Cut (1972). The actress’ first crack at stardom came in 1973, when she played a teenage accomplice to ruthless cross-country killer Martin Sheen in Terrence Malick’s disturbing Badlands. The role earned her critical acclaim, as did her portrayal of a sweet teen who becomes a violent radical in the made-for-television movie Katherine (1975).
Spacek’s true breakthrough came when she played a troubled, shy teenager who discovers that she has telekinetic powers and uses them to get bloody revenge upon her cruel schoolmates and mother in Brian De Palma’s chilling adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Carrie (1976). Her work in the film earned her a Best Actress nomination, as well as permanent cult status. She once again experimented with emotional instability in Robert Altman’s Three Women the following year, and then got to show off her singing abilities playing Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter in 1980. Her portrayal of Lynn became one of Spacek’s best-known roles, and it earned her an Oscar for Best Actress.
In 1981, Spacek starred in Raggedy Man, which was directed by her husband, Jack Fisk. Her career remained in high gear through the mid-’80s with such memorable turns as her Oscar-nominated work in Missing (1982) and The River (1984), but after 1986, when she was again nominated for an Oscar for her work in Crimes of the Heart, Spacek partially withdrew from acting to concentrate on raising kids. Throughout the 1990s, she occasionally returned to the big screen, lending her talents to such features as JFK (1991), The Grass Harp (1996), and Affliction (1998). In 1999, she turned in memorable performances playing Brendan Fraser’s mother in Blast From the Past and Richard Farnsworth’s speech-impaired daughter in David Lynch’s The Straight Story. In 2001 the quietly intense actress shined once again in director Todd Field’s critically praised In the Bedroom. Suffering from severe trauma and depression after her son is viciously murdered, Spacek’s brooding and sympathetic performance in Bedroom found the actress taking home a Golden Globe for Best Actress and earning an Oscar nod in the same category.