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Kathy Bates Biography


Home > Actresses > B > Bates, Kathy > Biography


Birth Name: Kathy Bates
Born: 06/28/1948
Birth Place: Memphis, Tennessee, USA


Kathy Bates was born June 28, 1948, and raised in a middle class home in Memphis, TN. As a teenager, she loved creative writing enough to churn out an abundance of dark, introspective song lyrics before deciding to pursue English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. She changed her course quickly when she discovered the school's drama department, graduating in 1969 with a BFA in theater and moving to New York City to pursue a career onstage. Her earliest break came in the form of a small character role as an auditioning singer (performing one of her own compositions) in Milos Forman's "Taking Off" (1971), but Bates spent most of the ensuing two decades in theater. After several productions with Playwrights Horizons she got her first taste of success as a Texas belle in the off-Broadway hit "Vanities," which went on to tour in Los Angeles and Chicago. Bates appeared on the big screen as Gary Busey's put-upon wife in "Straight Time" (1978), before moving to Kentucky to work with the Actor's Theater of Louisville, where she originated the role of Lenny, the shy, eldest sibling, in Beth Henley's "Crimes of the Heart."

Bates hit Broadway in 1980 in the short-lived "Goodbye Fidel" supporting Jane Alexander, and originated the role of the loudmouthed Stella May in the Broadway production "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" in 1982, reprising her role in Robert Altman's film version later that year. A starring role as a desperate, Southern divorcee bent on committing suicide in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "'night Mother" established Bates as one of Broadway's top talents with a Tony nomination and a year-long stage run to prove it. The following year, she had a recurring role on ABC's daytime soap "All My Children" (ABC, 1970- ) as the cell mate of incarcerated Erica Kane (Susan Lucci). She went on to appear off-Broadway in Sam Shepard's dark comedy "The Curse of the Working Class" and gave an Obie and Drama Desk Award-winning performance as a frustrated waitress discovering love in "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune," a part written expressly for her by playwright Terrence McNally. Bates replaced Amy Irving in a role as a South African schoolteacher in Athol Fugard's "The Road to Mecca" (1988-89) before setting down roots in L.A. and focusing her attention on breaking into films.

She landed character roles in such films as "Men Don't Leave" (1990) and "Dick Tracy" (1990) before Rob Reiner, having seen her in a stage performance in L.A., cast the mainstream unknown in a co-starring role in Stephen King's "Misery" (1990). Bates gave a superlative performance as Annie Wilkes, a psychotic super fan of a romance novelist (James Caan) whom she holds hostage after he kills off her favorite character. For her chilling display, the Hollywood newcomer earned both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award. Despite her acclaim, good film roles for an over-40 stage actress were a challenge to find; due partly to the lack of imagination by casting agents and producers and partly because of Bates' full figure and mom-next-door looks. But she did find work, delivering a strong turn as Aidan Quinn's repressed missionary wife whose grief over the death of their son causes her to have a breakdown in "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" (1991). In another Golden Globe-winning performance, she played the attendant of nursing home resident (Jessica Tandy) in "Fried Green Tomat s" (1991).

The Tony winner proved to be better than her material in lackluster offerings like "Used People" (1992) and "A Home of Our Own" (1993) before getting a boost as another of Stephen King's crusty characters. As "Dolores Claiborne" (1995), Bates was terrific, delivering a showy turn as a murder suspect with a dark past. Although some felt her miscast as a hard-boiled detective investigating a possible homicide in the pallid remake "Diabolique" (1996), she injected a much needed spark to the otherwise forgettable Sharon Stone film. Similarly, her foul-mouthed, aggressive agent-turned-producer in the HBO movie "The Late Shift" (1996) proved both her ability to handle comedy as well as earned her a Golden Globe and the first of many Emmy Award nominations. Admiring her spunk, director James Cameron tapped Bates to portray another larger-than-life character, Molly Brown, in his disaster epic "Titanic" (1997), which went onto become the highest grossing film of all time. Though her appearances in full Victorian finery were brief, the actress made a memorable impression as the nouveau riche Coloradan who implored the lifeboat crew members to row back for survivors from the sunken ocean liner. "Primary Colors" (1998) offered Bates a juicy role as a straight-talking, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners political campaign advisor and earned her an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for her work. And while "The Waterboy" (1998) was hardly Broadway thespian territory, Bates brought down-home inspiration to her role as underachiever Sandler's white trash mother.

During the late 1990s, Bates began to branch out with behind-the-camera work directing TV dramas. She helmed episodes of police dramas "Homicide: Life on the Street" (NBC, 1993-99) and "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005), as well as the gritty HBO prison drama "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003). In 1999, she was nominated for a Best Directing Emmy for putting Sam Shepard and Judy Davis through their paces as Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman in the A&E biopic "Dash and Lilly." The same year, her zesty performance as Miss Hannigan in the TV movie version of the stage hit "Annie" (1999) shed light on her powerful singing voice and snagged her an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. In 2001, Bates directed the first of many episodes of Alan Ball's acclaimed dark dramedy "Six Feet Under" (HBO, 2001-05) and stuck close to that dark sensibility with a supporting role in the little-seen indie "Love, Liza" (2002) where she played the grieving mother-in-law of a widower (Seymour Hoffman) who turns to sniffing gasoline fumes as a way of dealing with his wife's suicide.

Continuing to prove her mettle as a comedienne, Bates was nominated as Outstanding Guest Actress for a stint on "3rd Rock from the Sun" (NBC, 1996-2001) and was part of the all-star cast of the quirky indie comedy feature, "Unconditional Love" (2002). But the big news in 2002 was her supporting performance in "About Schmidt." Bates spun comic gold in her performance as the eccentric, low-class mother of a depressed retiree's (Jack Nicholson) prospective son-in-law. Bates attacked the role with comedic gusto and complete disregard for vanity, resulting in critical accolades and an Academy Award and Golden Globe nomination for her supporting turn. In 2003, Bates came out in front of the "Six Feet Under" cameras in a recurring role as the earthy, outspoken Bettina, who helps Ruth Fisher (Frances Conroy) break out of her self-repressing ways, earning an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. Behind the scenes, however, Bates was fighting a private battle with ovarian cancer in 2003, a fact she revealed in 2009 in an effort to raise awareness and offer hope to other women diagnosed with the disease. The actress stated at the time that she just wanted to deal with her cancer on her own, which went into remission following chemotherapy.

In 2004, Bates had a cameo role as Queen Victoria in the contemporary remake of "Around the World in 80 Days" and turned up in support of Brittany Murphy in the middling romantic comedy "Little Black Book" (2004) as a daytime talk show hostess. She received rave reviews for her portrayal of physical therapist Helena Mahoney, who helped Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Kenneth Branagh) come to terms with his debilitating polio in the acclaimed HBO telepic, "Warm Springs" (2005), resulting in a nomination for an Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy Award. That same year, she directed and starred in the Lifetime telepic "Ambulance Girl," playing a former food writer who overcomes a bout of clinical depression when she begins working as a paramedic. A string of uneven comedies followed, with Bates co-starring alongside Jessica Lange and Joan Allen in the little seen middle-age road flick "Bonneville" (2006) and the blockbuster "Failure to Launch" (2006), where she and Terry Bradshaw played suburban parents whose 30-year-old son (Matthew McConaughey) will not move out of the house.

After lending her voice to family films "Charlotte's Web" (2006), "Bee Movie" (2007), and "The Golden Compass" (2007), Bates returned to the big screen in a big way, co-starring as a wealthy matriarch opposite Alfre Woodard's working class mom in Tyler Perry's "The Family That Preys" (2008), a suburban drama that follows two families brought together by scandal. Bates' popularity with top directors continued unabated, and the actress was cast in supporting roles in Sam Mendes' period domestic drama "Revolutionary Road" (2008) and Stephen Frears' "Cheri" (2008). Bates next played Miss Sue, tutor to adopted football phenomenon Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), in the box office winner "The Blind Side" (2009), which she followed with a recurring role as Michael Scott's (Steve Carell) new Dunder-Mifflin boss on NBC's hit sitcom "The Office (2005- ), as well as an acclaimed performance as the Queen of Hearts in "Alice" (Syfy, 2009), a futuristic retelling of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The latter role earned her an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.

Staying on the small screen, Bates became the star of her own series, "Harry's Law" (NBC, 2011-12), playing a retired patent lawyer who gathers together a misfit group of attorneys and operates an unorthodox practice out of a rundown shoe store in Ohio. The role earned the exceptional actress another Emmy Award nod, this time for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series - her ninth overall nomination but first in that category. Despite the show being canceled in early 2012, she earned another Emmy nomination in the same category, while at the same time earned an Emmy that same year for her guest starring turn as the ghost of Charlie on "Two and a Half Men" (CBS, 2003- ). Back on the big screen, she delivered a small, but memorable turn as the famed Gertrude Stein in Woody Allen's lighthearted romantic comedy, "Midnight in Paris" (2011). Meanwhile, Bates faced another serious medical problem when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, leading to her having a double mastectomy soon after. Unlike her ovarian cancer, Bates went public with the news right away and declared her relief with not having to undergo chemotherapy again in an interview with People magazine.