Before the wisdom of crowds voted her one of the world’s sexiest women, Kathleen Turner was a State Department brat who said her diplomat daddy told her that a career in acting was just a step up from being a streetwalker.
After crotch rocketing from the soaps to stardom with her sexy performance as Matty in Lawrence Kasdan’s 1981 neo-noir cult hit Body Heat, she probably proved him right.
Born in 1954, Turner was part of that fabled boomer demographic that went coast to coast and shook up America and the world with a cultural cocktail of sex and drugs and rock and roll.
In Tinseltown it changed the rules developed by the old Hollywood moguls for women that had been in vigor since the days of silent film. Soon, their talent-scout-to-casting couch-to-contract player studio system would be no more. And Kathleen Turner’s in-your-face sexuality was a big reason why.
During the era of flower power, hippies and women’s liberation, the names Hepburn, Taylor and Bacall were still being pulled out of the winning envelope. But in 1969 Barbara Streisand and her youthful, quirky, outside the box personality surprised traditional critics and even her big publicity team by pulling down an Oscar for best actress in Funny Girl. Then, in 1971, “Hanoi Jane” Fonda took best actress honors, playing the role of a hooker in Klute, indicating that the tastemakers of the Academy had given the green light to a generation of new faces and values that broadened the creative space Hollywood provided to women.
All of this set the table for Kathleen Turner and her own game changing bag of tricks. She was big mouthed, ball busting and sexy enough to put men on the defensive the way they like it and bring them back for more at the box office.
Ironically, it all happened during the fabled Reagan Revolution. It was only appropriate, with Nancy henpecking Ronnie to the max, that Kathleen ate men up and spit them out. After Body Heat, Romancing The Stone, Peggy Sue Got Married and Prizzi’s Honor, the only thing Turner couldn’t get away with was crashing the Bohemian Club in drag.
An athletic actress who broke her nose performing her own stunts in V.I. Warshawski, Turner suffers from the same inflammatory disease that stops the careers of big time athletes, rheumatoid arthritis. And it took big toll on her bankability and credibility as an A-list star. The demons associated with chemical dependency on pain medicine, booze and anti-inflammatory drugs changed her looks and her personality.
A 21 year marriage to New York real estate dealmaker Jay Weiss ended in divorce. Among the properties in his portfolio, Weiss owned a popular New York dance club that remained open without a license in spite of being cited for safety violations .
After a fire at the club caused 87 deaths, Turner stood by her man, telling the New York Times “the fire was unfortunate, and it could have happened at a McDonalds.”
Her comment sounded more like an outtake from her performance in Prizzi’s Honor than a statement to a victim’s impact panel.
What followed has been a bumpy ride. Turner continues to deal with her health and substance issues and does occasional small and large screen cameos, theatre and voicing. She is active in causes including People for the American Way, Amnesty International and Planned Parenthood.
Having lived in Caracas, Venezuela, while growing up when her father was posted to the U.S. Embassy, her Spanish is impeccable. In a world where people can be almost whatever they want next time around, Turner is always looking for new projects and opportunities. She’s a perfect candidate to upstage the likes of Angelina Jolie and carve out a role as a new kind of Hollywood public diplomat. Now, if Sean Penn and Oliver Stone would stop fawning over their idol Hugo Chavez, she could fly down and cause a real fracas in Caracas.