Linda Hunt’s Life, Including 34-Years Relationship with Wife Karen & Remarkable Acting Career

Joe Akins
Dec 02, 2021
08:20 A.M.
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Hollywood legend Linda Hunt has had an incredible career spanning several decades, but her love life is equally as remarkable, having had a partner for over thirty years.

Linda Hunt is best known for her role as the tenacious Hetty Lange on CBS's "NCIS: Los Angeles." Hunt's long career has been defined by her portrayal of the much-loved character she has played since 2009. 

In reality, Hetty has become something of a cult favorite among fans of the show. Hunt's marriage to Karen Kline has made her an LGBTQ+ icon, especially since she's always been outspoken about her orientation.

Linda Hunt as Henrietta "Hetty" Lange on the season 7 finale of CBS's hit series "NCIS: LA" which aired on March 15, 2016 [left]. Linda Hunt as Henrietta "Hetty" Lange on the season 9 finale of CBS's hit series "NCIS: LA" which aired on January 18, 2019 [right] | Photo: Getty Images

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While she has enjoyed a remarkable journey as an actress, Hunt didn't have a promising start. Fans might recognize her from films like "Kindergarten Cop," "Silverado," "Dune," and "The Year of Living Dangerously." 

EARLY YEARS

Hunt was born in New Jersey in 1945 and raised by her parents, Elsie and Raymond, in their humble Connecticut home. Six months after her birth, her parents worried after realizing she was not like other kids.  

She wasn't acquiring motor skills at the normal rate, and as a result, doctors projected that she would need to be admitted to a mental institution.

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Linda Hunt arrives at the CBS, CW, CBS Television Studio and Showtime TCA party | Photo: Getty Images

Despite the abnormalities she experienced, Hunt's mother was enthusiastic about supporting her child, and the special attention and love she got from her parents helped build her confidence.

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Her parents exposed the little girl to literature and theatre and were soon sent to school. Elsie and Raymond were unwilling to accept that their daughter was not meant for the best part of life despite her apparent struggles.

They engaged a private acting coach for Hunt and enrolled her in a prestigious boarding school. Hunt was inspired to pursue acting after seeing a theatre production of Peter Pan.

Linda Hunt as Henrietta "Hetty" Lange on CBS's hit series "NCIS: LA" | Photo: Getty Images

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She then went to the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago to study directing. She was afraid that her atypical body and physical features would limit her acting chances. 

Hunt went to New York City, where she directed and stage-managed at small community companies until she joined New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre. She made her professional debut as Lucianus in the theatre's 1972 staging of "Hamlet."

As her career was gaining attention, she got off to a good start in 1975, when she made her Broadway debut as Norah in Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness!" In 1977, she featured in the Long Wharf production of "The Rose Tattoo."

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Linda Hunts on set of NCIS: Los Angeles | Photo: Getty Images

Hunt later starred in Arthur Miller's television film "Fame" in 1978, and she received critical acclaim for her role in "A Metamorphosis in Miniature." Hunt was cut for a career in theater.

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She once told Bomb magazine that her years of stage acting taught her a lot, mainly when she worked with actor Austin Pendleton. She devised a way of acting where she used everything going on around her and didn't alter anything. 

She added that she learned to quit structuring her thoughts and just let whatever happened to her inform her performance. Austin, she recalled, taught her how to take in all of the stimuli and all the things that made her vulnerable on stage.

Linda Hunts on set of NCIS: Los Angeles | Photo: Getty Images

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Hunt didn't feel like she'd made it as an actor straight away, despite her success in theater. She was frequently confronted with rejection and despair in between her theatre appearances. The actress admitted that she was unhappy that her efforts had gone unnoticed.

THE OSCAR WIN

Hunt played Billy Kwan, a Chinese-Australian photojournalist, in the film "The Year of Living Dangerously" in 1984, which was undoubtedly her breakthrough role. She described the role as an extraordinary and rewarding one.

According to The New York Times, casting her as a part-Chinese man today would be inappropriate, so there may have been some complications.

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Actress Linda Hunt posing with her Oscar, won for her role in The Year of Living Dangerous on at the 56th Annual Academy Awards Show, April 9, 1984 in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images

Despite this, her performance was universally regarded as fantastic. Hunt went on to win an Oscar for the role, making history as the first actor to win an Oscar for portraying a cisgender character of the opposite gender.

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Her Oscar triumph pushed her into the spotlight, and she admitted that stardom wasn't something she had anticipated. It was the end of her career as a relatively obscure theater performer.

Hunt began to take on more prominent parts soon after her Oscar triumph. She appeared in films such as" Dune," "Eleni," and "The Bostonians." She began to feature with other movie stars like Kevin Kline and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who she acted alongside in "Kindergarten Cop."

Linda Hunt as Henrietta "Hetty" Lange on CBS's hit series "NCIS: LA" | Photo: Getty Images

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Her on-screen roles began to take on a pattern over time. She played several tough, powerful women in episodes including "The Practice," "The Unit," and "Without a Trace."  

According to Hunt, she was cast for what was perceived to be her authority appeal. She had developed a particular strength to compensate for her short stature; thus, this attribute came naturally to her. This supposed sense of authority became a substitute for what she lacked physically.

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THE LONG ROMANCE

Hunt's professional life may have been stagnant in the early 2000s, but her personal life was blooming. Karen Kline, a therapist with whom she had a long romance, married her in 2008, and it has been one of the highlights of her life. 

Their marriage took place the same year a major event happened in California; same-sex marriage became legal. Before their marriage, the pair had been together for several years. The couple began dating in 1987 and have shared several moments.

Linda Hunt, right, with her spouse Karen Klein in 2014, in their Los Angeles home | Photo: Getty Images

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WHY SHE WASN'T IN SEASON 12

Despite her comments that she was eager to retire and spend more time at home, Hunt is still technically a member of "NCIS: Los Angeles" cast as of 2021. However, as fans of the show may have noticed, she didn't make a lot of appearances in Season 12.

Her absence from the core cast is because of the COVID-19 epidemic. Hunt was kept apart from the rest of the actors for health reasons since she is in her 70s. She was also in a major car accident a few years ago, and to heal; she opted to scale back her time on the TV show.

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