What the Hell Happened to Kathleen Turner?

Kathleen Turner

Kathleen Turner

She started her career as the 80’s answer to a femme fatale.  She quickly became an international sex symbol.  At the peak of her career, Turner was a well-respected Academy Award nominee as well as a box office draw.  But the big parts slowed down and then she seemed to disappear from movie theaters entirely.

What the hell happened?

Kathleen Turner on stage - 1977

Kathleen Turner on stage – 1977

Turner started her career as a stage actress.  She moved to New York City in 1977 and took over the female lead for the off-Broadway play, Mister T.  I pity the fool that didn’t give her a standing ovation!  Future space man, Jonathan Frakes, co-starred.

Kathleen Turner - The Doctors - 1979

Kathleen Turner – The Doctors – 1977 – 1980

Later that year, Turner made her Broadway debut opposite Danny Aiello in the play Gemini.  At the same time she was appearing on Broadway, Turner made her TV debut on NBC’s soap opera, The Doctors.  She was the second actress to play the part of Nola Dancy Aldrich on the daytime drama.

Here’s a promo for the show.

In 1981, Turner made the leap to the big screen.

Kathleen Turner – Body Heat – 1981

The movie was Lawrence Kasdan’s 1981 thriller Body Heat co-starring William Hurt as a dumb attorney and Turner as the femme fatale who liked her men dumb.

The movie is set during a hot Florida heat wave.  Not the sticky, gross kind they have in real life but the kind they have in movies where everyone glistens and looks fabulous.  Hurt played a seedy lawyers who gets caught up in the sex tornado that was Turner.  The only problem is she’s married to a rich old man played by Richard Crenna.  All Hurt has to do is knock off the old man and Turner will be all his.  Not to mention she stands to inherit a fortune.  Mickey Rourke and Ted Danson appeared in supporting roles.

Turner had trouble even auditioning for the role because she had no prior movie experience.  But after Kim Basinger and Sigourney Weaver turned down the part, Turner finally got a reading:

“They gave me a copy of the script and I immediately wanted it. After that reading they set up a screen test with William Hurt. I’d never tested for a film before, and it was pretty scary . . . walking into a studio, having make-up men and everybody turn you into their idea of what Matty should be”.

In order to make the crew feel comfortable during the filming of Body Heat’s many steamy sex scenes, Hurt and Turner personally introduced themselves to every member of the crew.  When they did so, they were completely naked.

In her autobiography, Turner remembered Hurt’s hard-parting lifestyle:

In those days, he was pretty wild. He drank a great deal and took a lot of recreational drugs – he loved those magic mushrooms. He loved women, too; I don’t know how many he went through during filming. Bill always wanted to stay in character . . . [He] thought I wasn’t taking my acting seriously enough.

Although the movie was supposed to take place during a heat wave, it was actually shot in freezing cold.  The actors had to pretend to be sweltering when actually they were chilled to the bone.  In order to prevent their breath from fogging in the cold, Turner and Hurt would suck on ice cubes before speaking.  They also had to be sprayed down with water to simulate sweat.

Kathleen Turner - Body Heat - 1981

Kathleen Turner – Body Heat – 1981

Kasdan used a Steadicam for the famous scene in which Hurt hurls a chair through a window.  The Steadicam was still relatively new and it presented technical problems.  According to Turner, it kept breaking down:

We hear, ‘Cut! Wrap! The sun’s up.” We lost the whole night trying to get the shot. So at the height of passion, at the height of tension… we had to pick it up the next day. Talk about a cold shower.

Body Heat was a home run scoring with critics and audiences alike.  Turner was an overnight sensation.

turner - man with 2 brains

Kathleen Turner – The Man With Two Brains – 1983

Turner followed up Body Heat with the Steve Martin comedy, The Man With Two Brains in 1983.  Once again, Turner was a femme fatale, but this time she played the part for laughs.

Martin plays a brain surgeon who marries a gold digger played by Turner.  At a medical conference, Martin meets a colleague played by David Warner.  Warner has a collection of living brains he has treated with an experimental technique.  Martin discovers he can communicate telepathically with one of the brains in Warner’s collection (voiced by Sissy Spacek).  Soon, he realizes he is married to an evil woman in a sexy body but is in love with a beautiful woman with no body at all.  What is a guy who specializes in brain transplants to do?

Turner explained why she took the part:

“After Body Heat I got a lot of offers but none of the films were good enough. I wanted this part because it’s a comedy and because the character was so outrageous. I thought if I was very brave I could do some extraordinary things with it. It wasn’t a run of the mill token female role”.

The Man With Two Brains is the same kind of clever/stupid comedy that made Martin’s The Jerk a hit.  But it never managed to catch on with audiences.  If you haven’t seen it, check it out.  It’s criminally underrated and ridiculously quotable.

I don’t know why, but this line cracks me up every time.

As does the “citizen’s divorce”:

E pluribus unum!

Just watch it already.

Next: Romancing the Stone and Prizzi’s Honor


Posted on July 4, 2011, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 156 Comments.

  1. Name Some Of The Worst Hollywood Collapses

    Correct – Kathleen Turner did manage a career in theater. But her film career as a leading lady was relatively short due to booze, weight gain and health problems


    reply 442 Last Saturday at 1:59 PM


    • By the late 1980s, Kathleen Turner had acquired a reputation for being difficult: what The New York Times called “a certifiable diva.” She admitted that she had developed into “not a very kind person,” and the actress Eileen Atkins referred to her as “an amazing nightmare.” Turner slammed Hollywood over the difference in the quality of roles offered to male actors and female actors as they age, calling the disparity a “terrible double standard.”

      In 1990, Turner received unfavorable publicity when a deliberately lit fire at the Happy Land Social Club, located in a building managed by her husband, claimed 87 lives. The club was operating without a license and the building had been cited for numerous fire safety violations, but The New Yorker quoted Turner saying, “the fire was unfortunate, but could have happened at a McDonald’s.”[

      As a result of her altered looks and weight gain from her rheumatoid arthritis treatment, The New York Times published this statement in 2005, “Rumors began circulating that she was drinking too much. She later said in interviews that she didn’t bother correcting the rumors because people in show business hire drunks all the time, but not people who are sick.” Turner has had well-publicized problems with alcohol, which she used as an escape from the pain and symptoms of acute rheumatoid arthritis. Turner has admitted that owing to her illness, she was in constant unbearable agony and that as a result, the people she was closest to would suffer from it, as she was constantly drinking to relieve the pain and it made her a very difficult person. A few weeks after leaving the production of the play The Graduate in November 2002, Turner was admitted into the Marworth hospital in Waverly, Pennsylvania, for the treatment of alcoholism. “I have no problem with alcohol when I’m working,” she explained. “It’s when I’m home alone that I can’t control my drinking…I was going toward excess. I mean, really! I think I was losing my control over it. So it pulled me back.”


      reply 448 Last Saturday at 2:22 PM


    • Cybill Shepherd – what happened to her?

      Kathleen Turner July 2016.

      The problem with actresses (Michelle Phillips as a singer too?) Is they think that by injecting “fillers” around their cheekbones suddenly they look ‘rejuvenated.’ The overall effect makes them all look ‘droopy’, facially saggy and plumped like drunken sailors after a bad night out on the town.

      And I’m not even talking about the lip fillers, eye lifts and assorted surgical ‘enhancements’ which makes these clients think they’ve rolled back the years.

      —Um, no.

      reply 33 15 hours ago

      Kathleen Turner has rheumatoid arthritis and is probably on massive doses of cortisone and biologics that alter appearance.


      reply 35 15 hours ago


    • 15 Famous Actors Who REALLY Aren’t Aging Well


      There can be no disputing Kathleen Turner’s status as one of the sexiest movie stars on the planet back in the 1980s. Films like The Man With Two Brains and Romancing Stone saw Turner captivate audiences with her stunning looks, star charisma, and that unmistakably gravely voice.

      But everything changed for The Jewel of the Nile star in 1992 when she was diagnosed with a crippling form of arthritis that put paid to her Hollywood A-list career. Turner was able to reinvent herself as a stage actress at least, though her health issues did persist. Turner was prescribed drugs to help combat the damaging effects of her rheumatoid arthritis. Though the medication helped alleviate the effects of the chronic inflammatory disorder, which largely affects the joints, it also caused Turner to bloat and gain weight. She’s nevertheless gone from strength to strength on the stage.


  2. Robert Spinello

    Time changes everything and everyone.


  3. off topic quesiton but since romancing the stone was on there. Was michale father kirk ever a list like mike


    • One indicator of A-list status, which I’ve referred to here in comments here before, is the annual Quigley’s list rankings of the top 10 box office stars. Kirk Douglas never made the Quigley’s top 10 list, even during the 1950s and early 60s when his stardom was at its peak. He was working hard in that era but not appearing in all that many big box office hits, and apparently even when he did (The Bad and the Beautiful, Spartacus), he was not seen as the factor getting people into the theaters.


  4. so I guess his son had commercial success then he did.


  5. Of course there are actors who have made few times there and never was a list. SO that ranking system cannot always be accurate. tommy lee jones was on there few times but he was never a list since most of hits where supporting roles. Duddley moore ,michael j fox and dan akyrod too and none of those guys ever really reached a list either.


    • Of course–that’s why I said that the Quigley list was “one indicator” of A-list status, not “the last word on the subject.” 🙂


  6. what does era have to do with being top draw.


    • Lots; Kirk Douglas’ prime was when there was less media saturation and stars were marketed differently. I mean, the man’s practically 100 years old; he was around when the only way to view film trailers was to actually go to the theater, since TV didn’t become constant in American households until the late 1950’s (or so I’ve been told).
      I wouldn’t make this comparison with anybody, but since Kirk Douglas has a son that was in the industry when profiles where heightened, a comparison seems worthwhile.


      • The numbers I’ve seen are that in 1950, Americans owned a little under 4 million television sets, and 9% of all US households owned one. By 1955 the figures were slightly over 30 million sets, and nearly 65% of households, and by 1960 it was over 45 million sets and about 87% of all households. I’m not sure when showing movie trailers on TV became a common marketing practice.


        • Thanks for the figures, as I know the TV situation differed for people (my mother didn’t own a color TV until the mid-1960’s). Maybe the TV film trailer deal wasn’t a huge factor, it’s just that Kirk & Michael Douglas had completely different working environments during parts of their career for sure. Of course, so did John Barrymore & Drew Barrymore.


        • Was there any particular event in the US that really boosted TV buying, as per the Queen’s coronation in the UK?


        • From what I’ve learned, that 1960 JFK/Nixon debate was a real big deal as well, so maybe that event really gave the final push for TV’s to become a part of most every household by that time.


    • The size of the pond, obviously. If you are top 10 of 100 potential stars, it does not seem nearly as impressive as top ten of 1000 potential stars. The volume of productions has steadily increased decade by decade.
      Ironically, the top stars from seventy years ago will remain famous longer than the top stars of today. The name Theda Bara will still be remembered when Sandra Bullock is forgotten.


      • I don’t know, I think Sandra Bullock will be remembered, since she’s left a mark in her era. Since she’s won an Oscar, it’s unavoidable that she’ll be acknowledged in future generations.


      • I have to agree with gluserty here. Sandra Bullock has been a major leading actress for over 20 years, with an Oscar to her name. I think her chances of being remembered in, say, 50 years are as good as any leading lady from earlier eras other than a handful of transcendent figures like Katharine Hepburn. In the specific case of Theda Bara, I’d say that Bullock has a much better chance of being remembered because virtually all of Bara’s filmography is completely lost. She can never be more than a very shadowy figure, even for serious fans of silent film.


  7. when douglas was at his peak in 80s there was more ways to market movies back then. I would say it is harder to have a hit movie now since people can stream them online now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s true, and I think a lot of people feel that makes films kind of easily digestible and disposable, like fast food, due to the easy access. I think streaming is a good thing though, but its been mentioned before on this site that the many ways that consumers can get their movie fix has changed the landscape of the industry permanently.


  8. Not only that but it seems like comic book adaption ,reboots ,remakes and sequels have dominated the movie industry and movie companies put more effort promoting those movies because they think it will make then fast money. Hollywood has gotten lazy,.Studios just want to capitalize on a hit movie genre that require little work and imagination.


    • Yeah, a big part of it is Hollywood being lazy and playing it safe, which is a bad combination. From my experiences so far, I’ve seen a lot of both in the year 2016 overall as well.


  9. People complain hollywood is out of ideas but when a original ideal cranks open they avoid it


    • Yeah, I think the general public tends to do that with new ideas. I think a lot of that stems from both wanting to fit in and not wanting to be wrong about something. I just think that when it comes to the creative arts that it’s important to keep an open mind, and that there’s room for every voice, but not for every echo.


  10. true. some actors become a list latter in their career like pitt. He had some hits in 90s but he never fully reach a list untill 2000s. If you notice most of his hits in 90s where due to bigger stars.


  11. Was Friends homophobic? Everything critics realized while watching “Friends” in 2015

    “Friends” hit Netflix for the first time in 2015, and while it’s certainly not the first time people have had the opportunity to rewatch the show since it went off the air in 2004, it has provided a handy excuse for people to ruminate belatedly on the show’s impact — and for crazy super-fans to binge-watch all 10 seasons, obviously — and perhaps learn something new about the gang in the process. And they did! Some revelations were goofy, some light, and others pretty damning. Here’s what the Internet dug up about our favorite sitcom when viewed in the cold harsh light of 2015:

    Chandler is the worst, and he’s also pretty homophobic.

    As Ruth Graham wrote in Slate: “Chandler’s treatment of his gay father, a Vegas drag queen played by Kathleen Turner, is especially appalling, and it’s not clear the show knows it. It’s one thing for Chandler to recall being embarrassed as a kid, but he is actively resentful and mocking of his loving, involved father right up until his own wedding (to which his father is initially not invited!)… his continuing discomfort now reads as jarringly out of place for a supposedly hip New York thirtysomething — let alone a supposedly good person, period…. When it comes to women, Chandler turns out to be just as retrograde as Joey, but his lust comes with an undercurrent of the kind of bitter desperation that I now recognize as not only gross, but potentially menacing.”

    Although, this, of course, is not the first time the show’s homophobia has been addressed:

    “In the show’s storyline, Monica loses weight in college after overhearing Chandler make fun of her size. Shamed into thinness, Fat Monica becomes just Monica — desirable and (finally) human. Monica is many things: funny, uptight, loving, competitive. Fat Monica is just fat… and always hungry. I was grateful for Fat Monica as a kid. She was proof I could overcome my disgusting plumpness and be seen as lovable, too. True, I would always bear the shame of my inflated past, just like Monica did, but I was willing to live with that if it meant I’d be a person instead of a punchline.”

    The Globe and Mail’s John Doyle, meanwhile, asked if nostalgia for “Friends” is all about white privilege.

    “The issues of race and ‘white privilege’ make some Americans deeply uncomfortable. Maybe, at a time when mainstream U.S. TV is finally airing shows with ensemble casts that look like the ensemble that is America, and after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and after the shooting and rioting in Ferguson, Mo., and all the attendant questions raised, there’s an instinctive need on the part of some to return to the bubble of white-bread America that is epitomized by ‘Friends.’


    • Why Friends would be taboo today

      Just as Friends’ gay characters were hit with some major mockery, so were its transgender folks. The longest-running example of this comes by way of Charles Bing, played by Kathleen Turner, whose transition status is left unclear but is mocked by Chandler’s mother for having “a little too much penis for that dress.” The Friends characters’ confusion over how to treat and talk about Bing, whose stage name is Helena Handbasket, is endlessly played upon by Chandler who continues to call this parent “Dad,” despite the obvious lifestyle changes involved.

      This lack of attention to proper pronouns, consistent ridicule of Bing’s status as a transgender person, and the fact that Chandler blames his parents’ lifestyle choices for so many of his personality issues would probably not be nearly as funny or well-received by today’s standards. It might also be considered unacceptable that a transgender woman like Bing was played by a cisgender actress like Turner.

      The controversial treatment of transgender characters didn’t stop with Bing. In a scene when Chandler and Monica visited Vegas to invite Bing to their wedding, they attended her burlesque show and were waited on by a transgender waitress (portrayed by the late Alexis Arquette, Courteney Cox’s sister-in-law at the time). Monica fumbled and bumbled time and again over whether to call her “waiter” or “waitress.” That was the joke.


  12. Kathleen Turner’s interview on PBS News Hour: “I am no good at playing victims”


  13. John Waters Reveals Why He Never Made Another Movie With Kathleen Turner After “Serial Mom

    It’s a pity Turner and Waters never worked together again, she gave one of the best performances of her career under his direction, and he always did his best work when he had a charismatic diva to direct. And yes, I DO think that Divine was a charismatic diva, one with true cinematic star quality.

    But I suppose she had too many other offers.


    reply 4 Yesterday at 12:39 PM

    Susan Sarandon was Waters first choice to star in Serial Mom but she wanted too much $$$$$$$$$$ so Kathleen Turner got her sloppy seconds.


    reply 5 Yesterday at 12:50 PM

    By the time Kathleen Turner got this movie her career had slowed down and she had lost her edge as a sex symbol. Working as a crazy frau in a John Waters movie was the best she could do.


    reply 8 Yesterday at 12:54 PM

    And playing a gay man on Friends and in doing so taking the role away from an actual gay male actor was the worst she could do.

    —Even KING OF THE HILL was more forward-thinking in casting Charles Nelson Reilly

    reply 9 Yesterday at 12:56 PM

    Kathleen Turner is criminally underrated.

    She was a FAR more interesting actress in the 80’s than critics darlings Streep and Winger:” Body Heat, Crimes of Passion, Prizzi’s Honor, Peggy Sue Got Married, Julia and Julia, Roger Rabbit, Accidental Tourist, War of the Roses.

    She deserved a much better career than what she ended up with, but what she has isn’t so bad either.


    reply 10 Yesterday at 1:00 PM

    As a really young teen when she was in her prime I totally worshiped her. I wanted to be just like her. So sultry and tough. Too bad she got sick and had so many problems. She would have been great in so many roles. I can just imagine her Fatal Attraction or Bull Durham.


    reply 23 Yesterday at 5:16 PM

    I loved Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom but I lost respect for her after she said this in an interview: “I actually think, after doing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and then Virginia Woolf, that part of my mission in life is to correct Elizabeth Taylor’s performances.” Whatever she might think about Elizabeth Taylor, it’s in poor taste to say it.


    reply 26 Yesterday at 5:36 PM

    I took a look a Kathleen’s memoir in a bookstore several years ago and it seemed pretty bad and boring. She devoted a whole sentence to being in Serial Mom. And the pics were awful. A bomb of a book.


    reply 28 Yesterday at 5:40 PM

    I bet that didn’t get her any points with Mike Nichols either. I agree. Really dumb of her to trash what many consider a masterpiece. This is the second article I’m aware of where she trashed it.

    Too bad Turner never got to work with Nichols. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, actors’ director of the past 50 years!


    reply 44 9 hours ago

    She didn’t age well. Waters caught her just before she hit the wall. Whatever the reason she also gained a lot of weight (did she lose it and keep it off? … can’t be bothered to check the latest weight situation) and nobody wants to see THAT onscreen.

    She also seems a little nutty and you can put up with that when she’s an attractive woman but not a fat old crone.

    —Just being frank

    reply 45 9 hours ago

    [R45] I think Turner is very ill with rheumatoid arthritis. Lots of steroids & meds = big weight gain. And at her age, post menopausal.

    Has she pretty much retired from acting?


    reply 47 9 hours ago

    Well, because I only made a couple movies afterwards. And with star names, the studios want you to get a new one each time. The only time that wasn’t going to happen was when Johnny Knoxville was going to play the father in Fruitcake, the movie I didn’t make. I would work with Kathleen again in a minute, I think she’s a wonderful actress. I go to see all of her theater, I’ve seen everything she’s done. I’m a big fan and we’re still friends.


    reply 53 2 hours ago


  14. Kathleen Turner in War of the Roses

    I loved the movie, and she was terrific in it. She and Michael Douglas were great together.
    I was reminded of this scene reading about Melanomia refusing to let her hand be held. Why?

    —Anonymous (182 views)

    20 replies 19 4 hours ago

    Kathleen Turner walked into her trajectory like footprints were laid out for endless success. I don’t think there has been anyone else quite like her in film. She was so cash the check sexy and aware of it too. She never mocked that but she was willing to go all the damn way with it. Even when she kept her looks she started to tweak things to show – but look at what else I can do! She was pretty f***ing fearless in every role and it’s too bad that she lost her looks so early and fast because she never lost her talent. For comedy and dark arts and subversive camp and desperate characters.

    Yeah she was an a**hole with that accent and her I’m so sexy attitude. EXCEPT it turns that really was her along with darker traits of ambition, intelligence, confidence and physical pain. I think sexy is an energy as much as a look. She’s sexy and and she knows it. War of the Roses is a fantastic film.


    reply 6 3 hours ago

    Classic Turner. Last scene: both Spouses lay on floor almost dead, after dropping off of chandelier.

    With his last breath Michael extends his hand and touches Kathleen. With her last breath, Kathleen flicks his hand away as if he were Trump.


    reply 8 3 hours ago


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