Eileen Brennan, a stage and film actress who starred in several popular movies from the ’70s and ’80s, died on Sunday at her home from complications related to bladder cancer.
Brennan burst into the spotlight with “Private Benjamin”, though she had been a working actress for more than two decades prior. The film, which starred Goldie Hawn, was released in 1980 and became a hit that went on to earn Brennan an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress. She later reprised the role for television, which won her an Emmy.
Brennan dealt with several ups and downs in her life, including being struck by a car and subsequently getting addicted to pain medication. She also battled alcohol addiction and breast cancer. After the car accident, she says she fought hard to recover because she had so much rage boiling beneath the surface.
“I was no saint,” she said. “I was angry, and anger is a powerful emotion. It increased my determination not to go under, to get well.”
Brennan once spoke about playing so many characters who were bitter or cruel, saying that they were interesting to play because she could see past the gruff exterior. Her views seemed to say a lot about who she was as a person.
“I love meanies, and this goes back to Capt. Lewis in Private Benjamin,” Brennan said a 1988 interview. “You know why? Because they have no sense of humor. People who are mean or unkind or rigid – think about it – cannot laugh at themselves. If we can’t laugh at ourselves and the human condition, we’re going to be mean.”
Brennan starred in films such as “Clue” and “Freaky Friday” before moving on to several television appearances. She guest starred on “Will and Grace” and “7th Heaven” for several episodes each.