It came as no surprise to film aficionados when, in 1999, Entertainment Weekly named Jill Clayburgh on its list of Hollywood’s 25 Greatest Actresses. For decades, she delivered stellar performances in a wide variety of roles.
Jill Clayburgh was born in 1944 in New York City, into a wealthy family, the daughter of Julia Louise (Dorr), an actress and secretary, and Albert Henry Clayburgh, a manufacturing executive. Her father was from a Jewish family that has lived in the United States since the 1700s, and her mother had English ancestry, also with deep American roots. Jill was educated at the finest schools, including the Brearley School and Sarah Lawrence College. It was while at Sarah Lawrence that she decided on a career in acting, and joined the famous Charles Street Repetory Theater in Boston. She moved to New York in the late 1960s and had featured roles in a number of Broadway productions, including “The Rothschilds” and “Pippin”. She began her career in films in 1970 and got her first major role in Portnoy’s Complaint (1972) in 1972. In 1978, she rose to screen prominence with her performance in An Unmarried Woman (1978), for which she received an Oscar nomination. She was again nominated for the Academy Award in 1979 for her role in Starting Over (1979). But after giving a riveting portrayal as a Valium addict in I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can (1982), her career went into a rapid decline, mainly because of her poor choices of scripts. She seemed destined for a comeback after appearing in Where Are the Children? (1986), with multi-talented child actress Elisabeth Harnois, but her excellent performance was largely ignored by critics, who opted to give the credit for the thriller’s success to the performance of the precocious, six year old Harnois.
After the late 1980s, Jill worked mainly in television and low-budget films, and also had a leading role in the drama Never Again (2001), with Jeffrey Tambor.
Jill was married to playwright David Rabe, with whom she had two children, including actress Lily Rabe.
Jill Clayburgh died of chronic lymphocytic leukemia on November 5, 2010, in Salisbury, Connecticut.