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Jessica Lange | Source: Getty Images
Jessica Lange | Source: Getty Images

What Happened to 70s Star Jessica Lange – Inside Her Life

Roshanak Hannani
Jul 10, 2024
05:25 P.M.

Jessica Lange went from a small-town Minnesota girl to a Hollywood icon. She even battled depression but found solace in her children. As she approaches retirement, the actress has received mixed comments about her looks, but that hasn't affected her career.

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Born in 1949 in Cloquet, Minnesota, Jessica Lange's life was conventional until she got the lead in "King Kong." Now in her 70s, the actress has dealt with mental health struggles and strange comments from online users about Botox. But that hasn't stopped her from going forward and living as she wants. Let's discover more!

Lange's Rise to Stardom

It's rare for a new actress to make a splash in the industry so early, but Lange was so good in her first role that she was likened to several Hollywood icons, from Margaux Hemingway to Carole Lombard.

However, the actress was uncomfortable with some of these comparisons, particularly the one to Marilyn Monroe.

Jessica Lange attends the Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 29, 1977, in Beverly Hills, California | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange attends the Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 29, 1977, in Beverly Hills, California | Source: Getty Images

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She stated, "Dino said I'm going to be the next Marilyn Monroe, and that really upsets me. She was a tragic figure who led a tragic life and who wasn't taken as the serious artist she was. I don't want to compete with her memory or with anyone."

However, this opened many doors in the industry. The actress's ascent to Hollywood stardom was as dramatic as the characters she would later interpret.

Lange's early life was characterized by frequent moves due to her father's work as a traveling salesman. This unsettled childhood perhaps contributed to her later restlessness and desire for adventure.

After studying art briefly at the University of Minnesota, Lange took a bold step by moving to Paris to study drama. Upon returning to the United States, she settled in New York, working as a model to make ends meet.

Jessica Lange in 1975 | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange in 1975 | Source: Getty Images

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It was during this time that fate intervened in the form of producer Dino De Laurentiis. He cast her as the female lead in the 1976 remake of "King Kong."

The producer desperately needed to find a fresh face for the lead role and called modeling agencies. At the time, Lange was sent to the audition on short notice. She showed up with braces and pale cheeks but impressed everyone in the room.

The film came with mixed reviews but catapulted Lange into the spotlight. However, the sudden fame came as a shock. As Lange recalled, "I'd always been poor," until De Laurentiis offered her a six-figure deal that also tied her to a seven-year contract.

This sudden shift from struggling model to movie star was a lot to process for the young actress. But her talent couldn't be denied.

Jessica Lange posing in front of projection of giant ape in promotion shot for motion picture "King Kong" in 1977| Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange posing in front of projection of giant ape in promotion shot for motion picture "King Kong" in 1977| Source: Getty Images

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The Danger and Injury from 'King Kong'

Jessica Lange's breakout role was almost meant to be. However, she quickly learned the downside of being in a movie. She spent eight months working 12-hour days, often acting against thin air where the giant ape would later be added.

As she recalled, "I had to play to the ceiling or to the wall or to the floor." She also discovered the physical dangers of filmmaking. The production, which featured a 40-foot hydraulic monster operated by 20 technicians, posed real risks to the young actress.

One particular incident occurred when one of Kong's massive 1,650-pound arms nearly broke Lange's neck. This close call left her with a painfully pinched nerve that persisted long after the shoot wrapped.

In 1977, Lange told People that what she'd been through that year was "quite extraordinary," but it hadn't yet "sunk in."

Jessica Lange on the set of "King Kong" in 1976 | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange on the set of "King Kong" in 1976 | Source: Getty Images

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The physical toll of the shoot, combined with the emotional strain of instant fame, left Lange needing time to decompress and process her whirlwind entry into Hollywood.

Therefore, after the film's release, she retreated to a modest three-bedroom cottage near the Pacific, surrounded by houseplants and her pet Scottish Terrier, Jake.

This period of recovery and reflection was crucial for the young actress as she navigated the aftermath of her breakout role and contemplated her future in the industry.

Moving on from 'King Kong'

After taking a brief hiatus, she returned to the screen with a small but impactful role in Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz" (1979). This was followed by a string of critically acclaimed performances that firmly established her as a serious actress.

Roy Schneider and Jessica Lange in "All That Jazz" in 1979 | Source: Getty Images

Roy Schneider and Jessica Lange in "All That Jazz" in 1979 | Source: Getty Images

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She delivered a powerful portrayal of Frances Farmer in "Frances." Later, she won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role in "Tootsie," which also starred Dustin Hoffman.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Lange continued to play challenging and diverse characters. She portrayed country singer Patsy Cline in "Sweet Dreams" (1985) and she was a lawyer uncovering her father's past in "Music Box" (1989).

Her role as the mentally unbalanced wife of a military officer in "Blue Sky" (1994) earned her another Academy Award. But Lange's talent wasn't confined to the silver screen.

In 1992, she made her Broadway debut as Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire." Her career continuously flourished in the 2000s and 2010s, with "American Horror Story" and "Feud: Bette and Joan."

Jessica Lange stars as Blanche DuBois in the CBS television production of Tennessee Williams' play "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1995 | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange stars as Blanche DuBois in the CBS television production of Tennessee Williams' play "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1995 | Source: Getty Images

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What made this possible was Lange's smart decision to avoid repetitive characters. She didn't want to be typecast, which was the total opposite of what many actors in her generation did.

When talks of a "King Kong" sequel arose years ago, Lange was adamant about not participating. "Artistically," she declared, "it would be redundant." This decision clearly paid off.

Becoming a Photographer

The Oscar winner's artistic talents extend beyond the silver screen. In 2008, she unveiled a new facet of her creativity with the publication of her first collection of black-and-white shots, "50 Photographs."

This book marked Lange's official debut as a photographer, and her work quickly gained recognition.

Jessica Lange poses with her photographs during the reception of 'Jessica Lange: 50 Photographs 1992-2008' at The Rose Gallery on July 18, 2009 in Santa Monica, California | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange poses with her photographs during the reception of 'Jessica Lange: 50 Photographs 1992-2008' at The Rose Gallery on July 18, 2009 in Santa Monica, California | Source: Getty Images

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In 2009, the George Eastman House, the oldest international museum of photography and film, presented an exhibition of her work alongside a series of her films.

This prestigious institution honored Lange with the first George Eastman Honors Award, acknowledging her contribution to film and photography.

Her passion for this craft continued to grow, leading to the publication of her second collection, "In Mexico," in 2010. Lange's lens beautifully captured the essence of the Latin American country.

In 2013, she combined her love for photography with her experience as a grandmother to release a children's book of images titled "It's About a Little Bird."

Jessica Lange visits SiriusXM Studios on October 21, 2013 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange visits SiriusXM Studios on October 21, 2013 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

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Her fourth book, "Highway 61," was published in 2019, featuring pictures taken along U.S. Route 61. This is a road with deep personal significance for the Minnesota-born actress.

Most recently, Lange published her fifth book of photography, "Dérive," in October 2022. This collection showcased images taken during her walks through New York City during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Lange embraced the concept of dérive, or drift, allowing herself to be drawn by the attractions of the terrain without a predetermined destination.

In an interview with the Financial Times, the Oscar winner described how photography provided solace during the challenging lockdown period.

Jessica Lange walks in the city on May 11, 2021 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange walks in the city on May 11, 2021 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

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"It was a comfort," she explained. "Because our usual mode of moving through a city is determined, time-sensitive; we're not looking. People are really in their own worlds. You get a sense of anger. They're rushing; there's no time for kindness."

For the actress, this art form offered a different kind of creative outlet compared to her main career.

"It was something that I needed at that time. To wake me up," she reflected. She found joy in the process, from shooting film to developing photographs in her darkroom.

"When you're developing a photograph and that image just seems to come up, it's like alchemy," she said. As Lange continued to explore new artistic avenues, she was also contemplating the next phase of her career.

Jessica Lange on "Today" on October 2, 2019 | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange on "Today" on October 2, 2019 | Source: Getty Images

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Her Family Life

The actress' family life has been as multifaceted as her celebrated acting career. She came from a diverse heritage, mixed with German, Dutch, and Finnish.

Her father, Albert John Lange, worked as a teacher and traveling salesman. Her mother, Dorothy Florence, was a housewife. Growing up, their family moved frequently across Minnesota due to her father's work.

Eventually, they settled back in their home state, and Lange graduated from Cloquet High School. Meanwhile, her romantic life has been characterized by several significant relationships.

Her first marriage was to photographer Francisco "Paco" Grande in 1970. Although they separated shortly after moving to Europe in the mid-1970s, they didn't formally divorce until 1982 and reportedly remained close friends.

Jessica Lange with the model of King Kong in 1976 | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange with the model of King Kong in 1976 | Source: Getty Images

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From 1976 to 1982, Lange was in a relationship with renowned Latvian ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. In 1981, they welcomed Aleksandra Lange "Shura" Baryshnikov.

During this period, Lange was also linked with choreographer Bob Fosse, with whom she held a tight friendship until his death.

In 1982, she began a relationship with playwright Sam Shepard, which would last for nearly three decades. Together, they had two children: daughter Hannah Jane Shepard (born 1986) and son Samuel Walker Shepard (born 1987).

The couple lived in various locations including Virginia, New Mexico, Minnesota, and New York City. But they separated in 2009.

Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard are at Avery Fisher Hall where she was honored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 2006 | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard are at Avery Fisher Hall where she was honored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 2006 | Source: Getty Images

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Being a Dedicated Mother Even through Depression

Lange's role as a mother was always a central part of her life, although it sometimes clashed with her professional commitments.

She once described how, during a lunch break, she would confer with her publicist about Oscar outfits while seeing her children off to art class.

Lange told People that parenthood changed her priorities. She admitted to having "always been extremely willful" but noted that having children was transformative.

"With children, it might be the first time in your life you put someone else first," she explained. "And that was a huge shift and a huge lesson in life."

Jessica Lange, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Daughter Alexandra Baryshnikov at the "Men Don't Leave" Premiere Party on January 29, 1990 | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Daughter Alexandra Baryshnikov at the "Men Don't Leave" Premiere Party on January 29, 1990 | Source: Getty Images

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Throughout all this, the actress battled mental issues. She recalled having "real bouts of depression," sometimes staying in bed for a week at a time.

However, she credited her children with providing a sense of security and grounding that had eluded her before.

The kids helped her manage all her struggles, as she could not allow herself to wallow in those scary depths for too long.

"With the arrival of my family, I felt tethered to life for the first time, and the restlessness that plagued me when I was younger finally disappeared," Lange revealed.

essica Lange says goodbye to her son Samuel Walker (Sam Sheppard's son) October 23, 2000 in front of a mid-town hotel in New York City | Source: Getty Images

essica Lange says goodbye to her son Samuel Walker (Sam Sheppard's son) October 23, 2000 in front of a mid-town hotel in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Her children also taught her not to take herself too seriously and helped her grow as a person.

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Therefore, her dark side was channeled into an important part of her creative process. She tapped into her anguish, rage, and sadness to fuel her artistic endeavors.

Becoming a Grandmother in her 50s

The actress's journey into grandmotherhood began in her early 50s. Lange's eldest daughter, Shura, made her a grandmother at a relatively young age by welcoming daughters Adah and Ilse, who are now college-aged.

This timing allowed Lange to fully immerse herself in the role. She explained to People, "What was nice about having grandchildren so early, because I was only in my early 50s when my first granddaughter was born, you really grow up with them."

Jessica Lange and granddaughters Adah Bryan and Ilse Bryan pose backstage with the cast of the hit comedy "The Play That Goes Wrong" on March 22, 2017 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange and granddaughters Adah Bryan and Ilse Bryan pose backstage with the cast of the hit comedy "The Play That Goes Wrong" on March 22, 2017 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

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The actress likened the experience to "having a second crop of children," and how it was an adventure. "We spent a great deal of time together. We traveled together. We had all sorts of adventures together. So I treasured that," Lange shared.

Interestingly, all her children, Shura, Hannah, and Walker, followed in their mother's footsteps and pursued careers in the arts.

Lange expressed pride in their choices, saying, "I love the fact that they've found their own way, and found their own passion."

Getting Backlash for Her Aging Looks

Like many actresses in Hollywood, Lange has faced scrutiny and speculation about her appearance over time.

Jessica Lange, Best Actress Winner backstage during the 67th Annual Academy Awards, March 27,1995 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange, Best Actress Winner backstage during the 67th Annual Academy Awards, March 27,1995 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

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The topic of aging in the entertainment industry, particularly for women, has been a contentious issue, and the actress has been honest about her thoughts on the matter.

In her mid-40s, Lange reflected on the challenges of aging in the public eye. "Aging is a big deal for a woman, and nothing prepares you for it," she said.

She expressed frustration at the different standards applied to older women. She explained that a 50-year-old woman could still be seen as desirable in Europe, while often becoming "invisible" in America.

In 1995, Lange admitted to considering cosmetic procedures, saying, "OK, maybe a little face-lift."

Jessica Lange is held by Liam Neeson on set of the film "Rob Roy'" in 1995 | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange is held by Liam Neeson on set of the film "Rob Roy'" in 1995 | Source: Getty Images

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However, she ultimately rejected this idea, believing that giving in to such pressures would be "buying into everything that's false and ultimately self-destructive."

Instead, she admired actress Simone Signoret's attitude, who famously said, "I want to age like a fishmonger's wife." Despite Lange's stated preference for natural aging, speculation about possible beauty treatments persisted.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, social media users often commented on the changes in her appearance as it looked like she'd gotten work done.

"Jessica Lange went get that good face lift and a few injections of Botox in see [sic]," someone wrote on X. Another person added, "Jessica Lange...bad botox or bad face lift??? #giveupthebotox plz [sic]."

Jessica Lange poses for a portrait at 2016 Tony Awards at The Beacon Theatre on June 12, 2016 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange poses for a portrait at 2016 Tony Awards at The Beacon Theatre on June 12, 2016 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

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Other comments included, "Why doesn't Jessica Lange's forehead move?" and someone else posted, "Woah, Jessica Lange. Too much botox."

Someone else was confused by her looks. "Jessica Lange looks....different. She's very beautiful. But...different," they wrote. However, not all comments were criticisms. Many fans praised Lange's appearance and grace.

"Jessica Lange has aged well. She handled Botox/facelifts the right way," someone said. Another person added, "My lady is so happy. Jessica Lange always beautiful [sic]."

More people praised her, "Jessica Lange. Always beautiful and classy. Love her so much." "I need a moment bc Jessica Lange's hair looks amazing [sic]," someone else wrote.

essica Lange attends the ceremony honoring Ryan Murphy with star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images

essica Lange attends the ceremony honoring Ryan Murphy with star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images

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The mixed reactions to Lange's appearance underscore the impossible standards often applied to female celebrities, who face criticism whether they appear to embrace natural aging or opt for cosmetic procedures.

But Lange's outlook on getting older in Hollywood is admirable. Moreover, she's still a timeless beauty.

Life After Retirement

In October 2023, Lange made headlines when she revealed her plans to retire from acting after more than four decades in the industry.

This announcement surprised many, given her continued success and critical acclaim throughout her career.

Jessica Lange joins SAG-AFTRA members on strike on October 30, 2023 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange joins SAG-AFTRA members on strike on October 30, 2023 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

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In an interview with The Telegraph, Lange expressed her frustration with the current state of filmmaking:

"Creativity is secondary now to corporate profits. The emphasis becomes not on the art or the storytelling. It becomes about satisfying your stockholders."

The Oscar winner was particularly critical of the trend toward big-budget franchise films, stating, "I'm not interested in these big comic-book franchise films. I think that they've sacrificed this art that we've been involved in... for the sake of profit."

She also pointed out issues of ageism in the industry and criticized the frantic editing styles of modern films. Despite her plans to retire, Lange's exit from the acting world has been a gradual process.

Jessica Lange comes to the Deutsches Theater for the CineMerit Award on June 30, 2024 | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange comes to the Deutsches Theater for the CineMerit Award on June 30, 2024 | Source: Getty Images

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She first announced her intention to retire in 2013, stating she would only appear in one more season of "American Horror Story."

However, she went on to appear in five more seasons of the show, finally leaving after season eight in 2018.

Even now, Lange isn't completely ready to give up acting. She returned for season two of "Feud," which aired in the first quarter of 2024. She also plans to appear in Eugene O'Neill's movie, "Long Day's Journey Into Night," and in a Marlene Dietrich biopic.

Meanwhile, recent photos obtained by the Daily Mail showed Lange in a wheelchair during a stroll in New York City. She was with her longtime friend and "Feud" co-star, Susan Sarandon.

Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon arrive at the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon arrive at the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

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While this sparked some concern among fans, a spokesperson for Lange clarified that she was "healthy and well" and was simply recovering from a leg injury incurred at a dog park.

Rest assured, nothing can get in this actress' way.

As Lange navigates this transitional period in her career, it's clear that her passion for the arts remains strong. Whether through acting, photography, or other creative pursuits, it seems unlikely that she will ever fully retire from her diverse crafts.

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