‘Close Encounters,' ‘Christmas Story' actress Melinda Dillon dies at 83

Melinda Dillon stars as Rose Gator in "Magnolia."
Melinda Dillon stars as Rose Gator in "Magnolia." Photo credit Peter Sorel/New Line SMPSP 1999 New Line Cinema

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Oscar-nominated actress Melinda Dillon, best remembered as Ralphie's mother in "A Christmas Story" and for climbing Devils Tower with Richard Dreyfuss in search of UFOs in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," has died at age 83.

The Hollywood Reporter first reported her death Friday, citing an online obituary page, which says Dillon died Jan. 9 and was cremated.

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An Arkansas native, Dillon scored a Tony nomination for her work on Broadway in the 1960s in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" She made sporadic TV appearances in the 1970s then gained attention in Hal Ashby's film "Bound for Glory" in 1976. She appeared the following year as a hockey wife in the Paul Newman comedy "Slap Shot."

That same year, she portrayed Jillian Guiler, whose young son is abducted by aliens in "Close Encounters," sending her on a quest for answers with Dreyfuss that ends at Devils Tower. The role earned her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

She was nominated again four years later for her performance in "Absence of Malice" as a devout Catholic woman who kills herself when a reporter (Sally Field) publishes a story about her abortion.

Although her credits also include strong roles in files such as "The Prince of Tides," "Magnolia" and "F.I.S.T.," Dillon is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Mother Parker in the holiday season classic "A Christmas Story." One of the most beloved Christmas movies ever made, the film is typically shown around the clock around the holiday every year, solidifying its enduring legacy.

Dillon also portrayed John Lithgow's wife in the 1987 comedy "Harry and the Hendersons." Her other film credits include "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar," "How to Make an American Quilt" and "Cowboy Up." She most recently appeared in the TV series "Heartland."

Dillon was married for about 15 years to actor Richard Libertini, with whom she had a son.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Peter Sorel/New Line SMPSP 1999 New Line Cinema