Melinda Dillon, Mom in ‘Christmas Story’ and ‘Close Encounters’ Dies at 83
Published on February 4th, 2023 | Updated on February 4th, 2023 | By FanFest
Hollywood legend Melinda Dillon, whose iconic performances in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Paul Newman-starred Absence of Malice fetched her two Academy Award nominations, was best remembered for playing Ralphie’s mom in A Christmas Story. She has passed away at 83.
According to a public obituary, she died Jan. 9, although no further details were given.
Throughout her five-decade career in Hollywood, Dillon also played roles in the movies Harry and the Hendersons; Slap Shot; The Prince of Tides; To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar; How to Make an American Quilt; and Magnolia. On TV, she appeared in Tracy Takes On…, Judging Amy, The Twilight Zone; The Jeffersons; and Bonanza.
The renowned movie star of the future was born in Hope, Arkansas, but spent much of her childhood living wherever her stepfather’s Army career took him. She then decided to pursue an acting path and joined Second City Improv during its early years before taking a foray into more dramatic plays on Broadway. It just so happened that she scored a part as Honey in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, bringing life to the stage with such success that it even earned her a Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by Featured Actress at only 23!
After fourteen years in the industry, Dillon achieved her breakout role as a Golden Globe-nominated lead in Woody Guthrie’s biopic Bound for Glory. Soon after, Steven Spielberg recruited Dillon to play Jillian Guiler—a single mother whose son was abducted by aliens—in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She received another Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination four years later for Malice alongside Sally Field.
Since its release in 1983, A Christmas Story has become a timeless classic to be enjoyed by family and friends alike. The movie follows the story of Dillon’s loving yet firm mother who instills moral values and teaches lessons through discipline while also mediating between her son and his intimidating father. Whether it’s being featured on cable or binging with your loved ones at home, no holiday season is complete without watching this beloved flick!
After her last appearance in the 2007 Canadian family drama Heartland, Dillon retired and did not appear in A Christmas Story sequel, A Christmas Story Christmas. Julie Hagerty stepped into this role instead. Billingsley shared with Entertainment Weekly that “Melinda had kindly wished us good luck for our projects when I spoke to her about this” back in December.
Off-screen, Dillon was married to Richard Libertini for 15 years, before they divorced in the late ’70s. They shared a son.
After news of her death broke on Friday, she was mourned by some famous peers.
Goodbye Melinda Dillon
I worked with her and she was of course humble and kind. A pros pro. RIP
— Treat Williams (@Rtreatwilliams) February 4, 2023
Melinda Dillon’s work had such a profound effect on me. Every moment of her performance in Close Encounters was perfection.
I’m so grateful she decided to give her artistry to the world. https://t.co/QccHdzcgBd
— Jon Cryer (@MrJonCryer) February 4, 2023
RIP Melinda Dillon. You affected my life so much.
— Taran Killam (@TaranKillam) February 4, 2023
So sad to hear Melinda Dillon has passed away #rip #slapshot pic.twitter.com/sYXkFUhMTh
— The Hanson Brother #17 (@Hanson_Brothers) February 4, 2023
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