One Life to Live and ‘Desperate Housewives’ Actress Shirley Knight Dead at 83
Oscar nominee, Tony and Emmy Award winning actress remembered for numerous roles.
Shirley Knight, a two-time Academy Award nominee and veteran actress who appeared on One Life to Live as Claire in 1986, died on April 22 due to natural causes, her daughter Kaitlin Hopkins confirmed in a Facebook post. “Early this morning April 22nd you passed away, and your sweet soul left us for a better place,” Hopkins wrote, addressed to: Dear Mom. “I was at your side and you went peacefully. To me, you were ‘just mom,’ to some you were ‘Miss Knight,’ ‘Miss Shirley,’ ‘Mama Shirley’ (to my students), ‘Shirl the Girl’ (to your friends), and ‘Shirley Knight’ to your fans.” Knight was 83.
Knight married twice, first to theatrical and film producer and actor Gene Persson from 1959 – 1969. They had three children: Kaitlin, Lukas and Markus. Knight was married to screenwriter John Hopkins from 1969 – 1998; they had one child, Sophie.
Born on July 5, 1936 in Goessel, Kansas, as Shirley Enola Knight, the aspiring performer studied opera as an adolescent, then went on to study acting at the Pasadena Theater School. She jumped into film, TV and stage roles beginning in the mid-1950s. Some of her earliest work included roles on TV series like Buckskin and Hawaiian Eye, and she quickly became a regular character actress on dozens of shows. In 1961 she received her first Oscar nomination for The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, and a second came in 1963 for Sweet Bird of Youth. Over the years, she picked up three Emmy Awards: Thirtysomething (1988), and Indictment: The McMartin Trial and NYPD Blue (both in 1995). In later years, she appeared in films including Angel Eyes with Jennifer Lopez; The Salton Sea, Our Idiot Brother with Paul Rudd, and Mercy, based on a Stephen King story. Knight played Phyllis Van De Kamp on Desperate Housewives from 2005 – 2007, and also shone brightly on stage, winning a Tony in 1976 for Kennedy’s Children and was nominated in 1997 for The Young Man from Atlanta.
Knight was also remembered on social media by actor Michael McKean referred to appearing on Maggie Winters with Knight in the late 1990s in his tweet: “I worked with Shirley Knight 20 years ago. She was lovely and smart and didn’t mind me going on and on about her work in Petulia. A beautiful person with a lot of talent. RIP.”
And actor Paul Walter Hauser wrote on Twitter, “I will never forget Shirley Knight in As Good As It Gets. She was so believable. Her back and forth with Helen Hunt was so on-point. Natural causes sounds like a better way to go than many. Thank you for your work, Shirley! #GodBless”
The family has set up the Shirley Knight Memorial Fund at Texas State university to honor her legacy and provide “young artists the opportunity to attend school and pursue their dreams,” wrote Hopkins.
Soaps.com sends Knight’s children, family and friends our deepest condolences. Take a moment to remember other soap opera alums that have passed on this year in the gallery below…
I worked with Shirley Knight 20 years ago. She was lovely and smart and didn't mind me going on and on about her work in Petulia. A beautiful person with a lot of talent. RIP.
— Michael McKean (@MJMcKean) April 22, 2020
I will never forget Shirley Knight in 'As Good As It Gets'. She was so believable. Her back and forth with Helen Hunt was so on-point. Natural causes sounds like a better way to go than many. Thank you for your work, Shirley! #GodBless
— Paul Walter Hauser (@PaulWHauser) April 22, 2020