Oscar Actors: Spacek, Sissy–Background, Career, Awards (Emmy, Grammy)

Sissy Spacek Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No (uncle is actor Rip Torn)

Nationality: US

Social Class: Middle; father county agricultural agent





Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut: Andy Warhol’s Women in Revolt, 1971; aged 22; then Prime Cute, 1972; aged 23

Breakthrough Role: Badlands, 1973; aged 24

Popular Role: Carrie, 1976; aged 27

Oscar Role: Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980; aged 31

Other Noms: 6 (one win)

Noms Span: 1976-2001; 25 years

Other Awards:

Frequent Collaborator:

Screen Image: character actor

Last Film:

Career Output:

Film Career Span:

Marriage: 1 art director, Jake Fiske


Death: NA

Mary Elizabeth “Sissy” Spacek (born December 25, 1949) is an American actress and singer. She is the recipient of various accolades including an Oscar Award, three Golden Globe Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and nominations for four British Academy Film Awards, three Primetime Emmy Awards, and a Grammy Award.

Spacek was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011.

Born and raised in Texas, Spacek initially aspired a career as a recording artist. At age 18, she recorded a single, “John, You Went Too Far This Time,” under the name Rainbo in 1968. After sales of her music sputtered, she was dropped from her record label which led her to switch her focus to acting, enrolling at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. Spacek began her professional acting career in the early 1970s, making her debut as an extra in Andy Warhol’s Women in Revolt (1971).

Following her starring role in Terrence Malick’s influential crime film Badlands (1973), Spacek rose to prominence with her portrayal of Carrie White in Brian De Palma’s horror film Carrie (1976), for which she received her first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Following her performances in the acclaimed films Welcome to L.A. (1976), and Robert Altman’s 3 Women (1977), Spacek won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn in the biographical musical film Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980). Her other Oscar-nominated roles include Missing (1982), The River (1984), Crimes of the Heart (1986), and In the Bedroom (2001).

Spacek’s other prominent films include Raggedy Man (1981), JFK (1991), Affliction (1997), The Straight Story (1999), Tuck Everlasting (2002), Nine Lives (2005), North Country (2005), Four Christmases (2008), Get Low (2010), The Help (2011) and The Old Man & the Gun (2018).

Spacek received Primetime Emmy Award nominations for the television films The Good Old Boys (1995), Last Call (2002), and for her guest role on the HBO drama series Big Love (2011).

She portrayed matriarch Sally Rayburn on the Netflix drama thriller series Bloodline (2015–2017), Ruth Deaver on the Hulu psychological horror series Castle Rock (2018), and Ellen Bergman on the Prime Video psychological thriller series Homecoming (2018).

Spacek recorded vocals for the soundtrack album of Coal Miner’s Daughter, which peaked at number two on the Billboard Top Country Albums Chart and garnered her a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. She also released a studio album, Hangin’ Up My Heart (1983), which was critically well received and peaked at number seventeen on Billboard Top Country Albums chart.

Spacek was born on December 25, 1949, in Quitman, Texas, the daughter of Virginia Frances (née Spilman) and Edwin Arnold Spacek Sr., a county agricultural agent. Spacek’s father was of three quarters Czech (Moravian) and one quarter Sudeten-German ancestry; her paternal grandparents were Mary (née Cervenka) and Arnold A. Spacek (who served as mayor of Granger, Texas, in Williamson County).

Actor Rip Torn was a first cousin; his mother Thelma Torn (née Spacek) was an elder sister of Sissy’s father Edwin.

Spacek’s mother, who was of English and Irish descent, was from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

At age six, Spacek performed on stage for the first time in a local talent show. Although her birth name was Mary Elizabeth, she was always called Sissy by her brothers, which led to her stage name. She attended Quitman High School, and was named homecoming queen at her senior prom.

Spacek was greatly affected by the 1967 death of her close 18-year-old brother Robbie from leukemia, which she has called “the defining event of my whole life.” Spacek said the personal tragedy made her fearless in her acting career: “I think it made me brave. Once you experience something like that, you’ve experienced the ultimate tragedy. And if you can continue, nothing else frightens you. That’s what I meant about it being rocket fuel—I was fearless in a way. Maybe it gave more depth to my work because I had already experienced something profound and life-changing.”

Spacek initially aspired to a singing career. Under the name Rainbo, Spacek recorded a 1968 single, “John You Went Too Far This Time”, the lyrics of which chided John Lennon for his and Yoko Ono’s nude album cover for Two Virgins. When sales of her music sputtered, she was dropped by her record label. Spacek switched her focus to acting, enrolling at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. She worked as a photographic model (represented by Ford Models) and as an extra at Andy Warhol’s Factory. She appeared in a non-credited role in his film Trash (1970). With the help of actor Rip Torn, her cousin, she enrolled in Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio and later the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York. Her first credited role was in Prime Cut (1972), in which she played Poppy, a girl sold into sexual slavery.[5] The role led to television work, including a 1973 guest role on The Waltons, which she played twice. Spacek received international attention for her breakthrough role in Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973); she played Holly, the film’s narrator and 15-year-old girlfriend of serial killer Kit (Martin Sheen).[5] Spacek has described Badlands as the “most incredible” experience of her career.[10] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film a “cool, sometimes brilliant, always ferociously American film” and wrote, “Sheen and Miss Spacek are splendid as the self-absorbed, cruel, possibly psychotic children of our time.”

On the set of Badlands, Spacek met art director Jack Fisk, whom she married in 1974.

She worked as the set dresser for DePalma’s film Phantom of the Paradise (1974).

Spacek’s most prominent early role came in Brian De Palma’s film Carrie (1976), in which she played Carietta “Carrie” White, a shy, troubled high school senior with telekinetic powers.[5] Spacek had to work hard to persuade director de Palma to hire her for the role.[5] After rubbing Vaseline in her hair and donning an old sailor dress her mother made for her as a child, Spacek turned up at the audition with the odds against her, but won the part. Spacek’s performance was widely praised and led to an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination.

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote: “Though few actresses have distinguished themselves in gothics, Sissy Spacek, who is onscreen almost continuously, gives a classic chameleon performance. She shifts back and forth and sideways: a nasal, whining child; a chaste young beauty at the prom; and then a second transformation when her destructive impulses burst out and age her. Sissy Spacek uses her freckled pallor and whitish eyelashes to suggest a squashed, groggy girl who could go in any direction; at times, she seems unborn – a fetus. I don’t see how this performance could be any better; she’s touching, like Elizabeth Hartman in one of her victim roles, but she’s also unearthly – a changeling.

After Carrie, Spacek played the small role of housekeeper Linda Murray in Alan Rudolph’s ensemble piece Welcome to LA (1976) and cemented her reputation in independent cinema with her performance as Pinky Rose in Robert Altman’s classic 3 Women (1977). A review in The New York Times said, “In this film Miss Spacek adds a new dimension of eeriness to the waif she played so effectively in Carrie.”[14] Altman was deeply impressed by her performance: “She’s remarkable, one of the top actresses I’ve ever worked with. Her resources are like a deep well.” Brian de Palma added: “[Spacek is] a phantom. She has this mysterious way of slipping into a part, letting it take over her. She’s got a wider range than any young actress I know.”[15] Spacek helped finance Eraserhead (1977), David Lynch’s directorial debut, and she is thanked in the film’s credits.

Spacek began the 1980s with an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), in which she played country music star Loretta Lynn, who selected her for the role.[5] Both she and Beverly D’Angelo, who played Patsy Cline, sang their characters’ vocals themselves in the film.

Ebert credited the movie’s success to: […]the performance by Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn. With the same sort of magical chemistry she’s shown before, when she played the high school kid in Carrie, Spacek at 29 has the ability to appear to be almost any age on screen. Here, she ages from about 14 to somewhere in her 30s, always looks the age, and never seems to be wearing makeup.[16]

Sarris of The Village Voice wrote: Sissy Spacek – yes, I’m flabbergasted – is simple and faithful as Lynn. Spacek’s face is no more of an actor’s instrument than it ever was, but given a human being to play, given a director concerned with acting, she makes that woman exist. She sings the songs herself, nicely, and she has mastered the Appalachian accent.

Spacek also was nominated for a Grammy Award for her singing on the film’s soundtrack album. She followed this with her own country album titled Hangin’ Up My Heart (1983); the album spawned one hit single, “Lonely But Only For You”, a song written by K. T. Oslin, which reached No. 15 on the Billboard Country chart.[18]

In the film Heart Beat (1980), Spacek played Carolyn Cassady, who—under the influence of John Heard’s Jack Kerouac and Nick Nolte’s Neal Cassady—slipped into a combination of drudgery and debauchery. Spacek was so adamant about getting the role that she pored through over 4,000 pages of research to prepare for her character. Producer Ed Pressman and director John Byrum took her to dinner to advise her that she did not have the role. Spacek was so distraught at the news that she shattered a glass of wine in her hand. After that, Pressman walked up to Spacek with a piece of shattered glass and told her she had the role. He said that Spacek breaking the glass clinched the deal, and they believed she ultimately would best suit the part. The film was released on April 25, 1980 to mixed reviews.[22] Still, Roger Ebert felt her performance as Carolyn was “wonderfully played” and described her scenes with Heard and Nolte as “almost poetic”.

Spacek starred with Jack Lemmon in Constantin Costa-Gavras’s 1982 political thriller Missing (based on the book The Execution of Charles Horman). She appeared with Mel Gibson in the rural drama The River (1984) and with Diane Keaton and Jessica Lange in Crimes of the Heart (1986). She was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for all of these roles, but won her second Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for the latter.

Other performances of the decade included star turns in husband Jack Fisk’s directorial debut Raggedy Man (1981) and the drama ‘night, Mother (1986).[5] Spacek showed a lighter side by voicing the brain in the Steve Martin comedy The Man with Two Brains (1983).[24]

Spacek had a supporting role as the wife of Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner) in Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) and made a number of comedies, TV movies, and the occasional film. She played the evil Verena Talbo in the ensemble piece The Grass Harp (1995), which reunited her with both Piper Laurie and Jack Lemmon. She lent a supporting performance as the waitress Margie Fogg in Paul Schrader’s father-son psychodrama Affliction (1997). She also played Rose Straight in David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999) and the mother of Brendan Fraser’s character in Blast from the Past.

Spacek was nominated for the 2001 Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Todd Field’s In the Bedroom (2001). Stephen Holden said of her work in the film: ‘Spacek’s performance is as devastating as it is unflashy. With the slight tightening of her neck muscles and a downward twitch of her mouth, she conveys her character’s relentlessness, then balances it with enough sweetness to make Ruth seem entirely human. It is one of Spacek’s greatest performances.

Her performance as Ruth Fowler, a grieving mother consumed by revenge, won extraordinary praise and garnered the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress[26] as well as the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Actress, Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama, and Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead, and several others.[27][28]

With her sixth best actress Oscar nomination, Spacek became only the eighth actress to be nominated for at least six leading role Oscars. She is the most recent inductee to this list.

Spacek played unfaithful wife Ruth in Rodrigo García’s Nine Lives (2005) and a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s in the television movie Pictures of Hollis Woods (2007). She had a supporting part in the 2008 Christmas comedy Four Christmases and a lead role in the independent drama Lake City. Spacek appeared in the HBO drama series Big Love for a multi-episode arc as a powerful Washington, D.C. lobbyist.

Spacek narrated the 2005 audiobook of the original Carrie novel by Stephen King.[30] In 2006, she narrated the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), which sold over 30 million copies. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011.[31] Spacek was featured in Tate Taylor’s The Help (2011), whose cast was awarded the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.[32]

Spacek at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival
Spacek published a memoir, My Extraordinary Ordinary Life, with co-author Maryanne Vollers in 2012.[33][34] The Washington Post’s Jen Chaney called it “refreshingly down-to-earth” and “beautifully written”.[35] She added that Spacek’s description of her childhood is so “evocative that one can almost taste the sour stalks of goatweed she chewed on steamy summer afternoons”. Jay Stafford of Richmond Times-Dispatch pointed out that, unlike other actors’ autobiographies, Spacek’s “benefits from good writing and remarkable frankness”.[36] The Austin Chronicle’s Margaret Moser wrote that Spacek’s memoir is “as easy to read as it is a pleasure to digest”.[37] Biographile’s Joe Muscolino gave the book a 5 out of 5 rating, saying that it “does not disappoint”.[38] Kirkus Reviews was less appreciative of the book, calling it “an average memoir” and “overly detailed”, while criticizing its lack of “narrative arc”, but complimented Spacek for being “truly down-to-earth”.[39] Kirkus added that “the book is ‘ordinary’ and does not have enough drama to engage readers not directly interested in Spacek and her work” and is “for die-hard movie buffs and Spacek fans only”.[39]

Spacek became the first actor to appear in a film nominated for Best Picture in each of the four most recent decades. Each film was released near the beginning of its decade: Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), Missing (1982), JFK (1991), In the Bedroom (2001), and The Help (2011).

Spacek appeared in the crime drama film Deadfall (2012). She also co-starred with Robert Redford, in his next-to-last role before his retirement, in the biographical crime film The Old Man & the Gun (2018), which received critical acclaim.[according to whom?]

Spacek had starring roles in a variety of television series in the late 2010s. She starred as the matriarch Sally Rayburn in the Netflix drama thriller series Bloodline, which aired from 2015 to 2017. She starred as Ruth Deaver on the Hulu psychological horror series Castle Rock (2018), which intertwines characters and themes from Stephen King’s fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. Spacek also had a starring role as Ellen Bergman, the mother of Julia Roberts’ character, in the Prime Video psychological thriller series Homecoming (2018).

Spacek married production designer and art director Jack Fisk in 1974, after they met on the set of Badlands. Fisk later directed her in the films Raggedy Man (1981) and Violets Are Blue (1986). They have two daughters, Schuyler Fisk (born July 8, 1982) and Madison Fisk (born September 21, 1988).[ Schuyler Fisk has followed in her mother’s footsteps as both an actress and a singer.

Spacek and her family moved to a farm near Charlottesville, Virginia in 1982.


1972 Prime Cut Poppy
1973 Badlands Holly Sargis
1974 Ginger in the Morning Ginger [42]
1974 Phantom of the Paradise N/A Set dresser
1976 Carrie Carrie White
1976 Welcome to L.A. Linda Murray
1977 3 Women Pinky Rose
1980 Coal Miner’s Daughter Loretta Lynn
1980 Heart Beat Carolyn Cassady
1981 Raggedy Man Nita Longley
1982 Missing Beth Horman
1983 The Man with Two Brains Anne Uumellmahaye (voice) Uncredited[24]
1984 The River Mae Garvey
1985 Marie Marie Ragghianti
1986 Violets Are Blue Augusta ‘Gussie’ Sawyer
1986 ‘night, Mother Jessie Cates
1986 Crimes of the Heart Babe Magrath Botrelle
1990 The Long Walk Home Miriam Thompson
1991 Hard Promises Christine Ann Coalter
1991 JFK Liz Garrison
1994 Trading Mom Mrs. Martin and various roles
1995 The Grass Harp Verena Talbo
1997 Affliction Margie Fogg
1999 Blast from the Past Helen Thomas Webber
1999 The Straight Story Rose “Rosie” Straight
2001 In the Bedroom Ruth Fowler
2001 Midwives Sibyl Danforth
2002 Tuck Everlasting Mae Tuck
2004 A Home at the End of the World Alice Glover
2005 Nine Lives Ruth
2005 The Ring Two Evelyn Borden (née Osorio)
2005 North Country Alice Aimes
2005 An American Haunting Lucy Bell
2007 Gray Matters Sydney
2007 Hot Rod Marie Powell
2007 Pictures of Hollis Woods Josie Cahill
2008 Lake City Maggie
2008 Four Christmases Paula
2009 Get Low Mattie Darrow
2011 The Help Mrs. Walters
2012 Deadfall June Mills
2016 River of Gold[43] Narrator (voice) Documentary
2018 The Old Man & the Gun Jewel

1973 Love, American Style Teri Episode: “Love and the Older Lover”
1973 The Girls of Huntington House Sara Television film
1973 The Waltons Sarah Jane Simmonds 2 episodes
1973 The Rookies Barbara Tabnor Episode: “Sound of Silence”
1974 The Migrants Wanda Trimpin Television film
1975 Katherine Katherine Alman Television film
1978 Verna: USO Girl Verna Vane Television film
1992 A Private Matter Sherri Finkbine Television film
1994 A Place for Annie Susan Lansing Television film
1995 The Good Old Boys Spring Renfro Television film
1995 Streets of Laredo Lorena Parker 3 episodes
1996 Beyond the Call Pam O’Brien Television film
1996 If These Walls Could Talk Barbara Barrows Television film; segment: “1974”
2000 Songs in Ordinary Time Marie Fermoyle Television film
2002 Last Call Zelda Fitzgerald Television film
2009 Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People Narrator (voice) 4 episodes
2010 Gimme Shelter Adrienne Nourse Pilot
2010–2011 Big Love Marilyn Densham 5 episodes
2015–2017 Bloodline Sally Rayburn 33 episodes
2018 Castle Rock Ruth Deaver 8 episodes
2018 Homecoming Ellen Bergman 6 episodes
Music Video
Year Title Artist Notes
2018 Oh Baby LCD Soundsystem
Year Album US Country Label
1983 Hangin’ Up My Heart 17 Atlantic
Year Single Chart positions Album
US Country US Bubbling CAN Country
1980 “Coal Miner’s Daughter” 24 — 7 Coal Miner’s Daughter (Soundtrack)
“Back in Baby’s Arms” — — 71
1983 “Lonely but Only for You” 15 10 13 Hangin’ Up My Heart
1984 “If I Can Just Get Through the Night” 57 — 41
“If You Could Only See Me Now” 79 — —