The Wild One – Remembering Susan Tyrrell (1945 – 2012)

Posted in Remember by - February 27, 2016
The Wild One – Remembering Susan Tyrrell (1945 – 2012)

Appearing in many cult movies in a long and fascinating career, the unique Susan Tyrrell was a genuine one-off. A chameleon-like performer who could play both attractive flirts and grubby grotesques, she revelled in being an outcast. And in doing so, she created an array of memorable (and sometimes funny) colourful characters, often with a devilishly dangerous streak.

Born Susan Jillian Creamer, in California on March 18th 1945, Tyrrell came from an entertainment background, with her father a powerful agent at the time. She spent the Sixties in regional theatre before being noticed by Hollywood’s elite. Her first role of note, and one that gave her an Academy Award nomination, was as the drunken girlfriend of Stacy Keach’s down-and-out boxer, in John Huston’s excellent character study, ‘Fat City’ (’72). Paired with Keach again, she was even better in ‘The Killer Inside Me’ (’76), playing a hateful hooker killed by Keach’s psychotic cop, over a large sum of money.

1977 would be a memorable one for Susan. First, she was Carroll Baker’s troubled daughter-in-law, in Andy Warhol’s bad-taste epic ‘Bad’, then a barfly in the episodic ‘Islands in the Stream’, with George C. Scott. Next, she was perfect as an asylum inmate in the schizophrenia drama ‘I Never Promised You A Rose Garden’. Lastly, she was Lisa Blount’s mom in the James Dean inspired tragedy ‘September 30, 1955’, which had Richard Thomas as a Dean obsessed fan who takes the news of his idol’s death very badly.

The 80’s began with Susan playing the wicked queen alongside Hervé Villechaize’s evil king, in the cult bizarre musical ‘Forbidden Zone’ (’80). The following year Tyrrell had some frank nudity in Marco Ferreri’s sordid yet dull drama ‘Tales of Ordinary Madness’ (’81), as an unstable floozy picked up by Ben Gazzara’s unlikable alcoholic poet. One of Susan’s best turns came in the controversial (and once banned in the UK) horror ‘Night Warning’ (’82), playing the sexually frustrated and disturbed ‘aunt’ of Jimmy McNichol’s orphaned teen. With some slasher style violence and a running theme of incest, it’s no wonder that this interesting flick caught the attention of the critics, especially as it was made by William Asher, a television director better known for making a number of those silly Sixties ‘Beach’ movies. Another memorable part came in the teen exploitation drama ‘Angel’ (’84), as streetwalker Donna Wilkes’ lesbian landlady, a role she reprised for its lame sequel ‘Avenging Angel’ (’85). That same year also saw Tyrrell as Rutger Hauer’s whore, in Paul Verhoeven’s medieval revenge flick ‘Flesh + Blood’, before a rare Disney appearance in ‘The Christmas Star’ (’86).

After small roles in the John Cusack comedy ‘Tapeheads’ (’88) and the Drew Barrymore thriller ‘Far from Home’ (’89), it was only a matter of time before Susan would team up with the “king of bad taste” John Waters. That time came in his 50’s musical satire ‘Cry-Baby’ (’90), as the wonderfully named Ramona Rickettes, the grandmother of Johnny Depp’s juvenile delinquent, who falls in love with the pretty but square Alison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane). With decent movie roles now in decline, Susan embarked on a number of innovative and experimental stage productions, including a potent one-woman piece called ‘My Rotten Life: A Bitter Operetta in 1989.

After a handful of mediocre projects in the 90’s, Susan was diagnosed with a rare blood disease in early 2000, which resulted in her having to have both her legs amputated below the knee. Undeterred, she kept her self busy with writing and painting, and even performing on rare occasions. Tyrrell’s final movie appearance came in the intriguing Indie picture ‘Kid-Thing’ (2012), playing a woman trapped down an abandoned well, who’s discovered by a young tomboy, who is unsure whether to help her out, believing her to be the devil.

Sadly, on June 16th 2012, at the age of 67, Susan succumbed to the rare blood disease she had contracted a few years earlier. An exciting, talented rebel, and prolific scene-stealer, Susan Tyrrell was an unashamed, unambitious loner, who drifted through life, stopping now and then to make a movie, which gave her just enough she said “to pay the rent”. Looking around Hollywood today, Movieland could surely do with an exciting character like hers.

Favourite Movie: Fat City
Favourite Performance: Night Warning

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