Sally Kellerman, Oscar-Nominated ‘MASH’ Actress, Is Dead at 84 – The New York Times

Movies|Sally Kellerman, Oscar-Nominated ‘MASH’ Actress, Is Dead at 84

The actress, who broke through as Margaret (Hot Lips) Houlihan in “MASH,” was known for her self-effacing comedy, a velvety voice and an ability to toggle between sultry and silly.

Sally Kellerman as Maj. Margaret (Hot Lips) Houlihan in the film “MASH.”
Credit…20th Century Fox / Ronald Grant Archive via Alamy Stock

Christine Chung

Sally Kellerman, the willowy, sultry-voiced actress and singer whose portrayal of Maj. Margaret (Hot Lips) Houlihan in the 1970 dark comedy “MASH” earned her an Oscar nomination, died on Thursday at an assisted-living facility in Los Angeles. She was 84.

Her son, Jack Krane, said the cause was heart failure.

In her decades-long career in film and television, she was best known for her role as the strait-laced but alluring Army nurse in “MASH,” which landed Ms. Kellerman rave reviews and a Golden Globe Award.

The film, directed by Robert Altman, broke ground with its irreverence and its graphic depiction of a group of hotshot surgeons struggling to save horribly wounded soldiers at an Army surgical unit during the Korean War. (When “MASH” was adapted into a TV series, Ms. Kellerman’s character was played by Loretta Swit.)

Ms. Kellerman went on to appear in several other films directed by Mr. Altman, including “Brewster McCloud” (1970) and “The Player” (1992). Like other actors, she was attracted to working with Mr. Altman because of the leeway he allowed in interpreting scripts and improvising scenes.

After her star-making role in “MASH,” Ms. Kellerman sought to revive her career as a singer, performing her cabaret act at nightclubs like the Grand Finale in New York City.

On the cabaret circuit, her performances garnered mixed reviews. Robert Palmer wrote in The New York Times in 1977 that she had “an intriguingly husky voice” and “the makings of an effective pop singer,” but he criticized her for some of the same qualities she was known for as an actor, such as her “breezy superficiality.”

In an interview with The Times in 1981, Ms. Kellerman reflected on the break she took to focus on singing, calling it a “great experience” that made her return to acting feel “fresh.”

Sally Kellerman was born on June 2, 1937, in Long Beach, Calif., to John Helm Kellerman and Edith Kellerman.

In Ms. Kellerman’s 2013 memoir, “Read My Lips: Stories of a Hollywood Life,” she described wanting to be a performer from an early age, when she was a “skinny little kid growing up in Granada Hills in the San Fernando Valley.”

“I must have come out of the womb singing and acting,” she wrote.

As a tall, chubby teenager, she harbored dreams of performing onstage that she held secret until she was a senior in high school, acting in Hollywood High’s production of “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

At 18, then a self-described “jazz groupie,” she was offered a singing contract with the prominent jazz label Verve Records, Ms. Kellerman told The Times in 1981. It was severed by her debilitating stage fright.

Her acting career began in musical comedy in productions like the Broadway musical “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1966).

In addition to her son, she is survived by a daughter, Claire Kellerman Krane. Another daughter, Hannah Krane, died in 2016. Ms. Kellerman’s husband, Jonathan Krane, also died in 2016. A previous marriage to Rick Edelstein ended in divorce.

A complete obituary will appear shortly.

Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting.