In memoriam: Margot Kidder, 1948-2018

Famous for playing Lois Lane in four Superman movies, the Canadian actor had far more on her resume than a single character

Margot Kidder, who starred in Sisters, Black Christmas and The Amityville Horror and defined the comic-book character Lois Lane for a generation, has died. She was 69.

TMZ reports Kidder was found dead at her home by police on May 13, after a 911 call in which she was reported to be unconscious. Foul play is not suspected, but her death is now under investigation. Her manager told CNN Kidder died peacefully in her sleep.

Born in Yellowknife and raised in Toronto, Kidder’s first screen credit was an episode of the CBC television procedural Wojeck, in 1968. She moved to Vancouver and then to Los Angeles, where film and television work followed quickly. In 1970, she co-starred with Gene Wilder in the eccentric comedy Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx and in 1972, Brian De Palma gave her the lead in his Psycho-inflected thriller Sisters. It was the start of a long-running relationship with genre projects that also included Black Christmas, The Reincarnation Of Peter Proud and The Amityville Horror.

But the role she was most associated with is that of ace Daily Planet journalist Lois Lane in four Superman films. If Christopher Reeve gave the definitive screen performance as both Clark Kent and his costumed alter-ego, Kidder’s Lane is equally canonical. Her screwball-comedy take was an ingenious choice for a character who had to be both a brilliant reporter and utterly blind to the whole secret-identity thing. Kidder made Lois so single-minded in her pursuit of a story that it made perfect sense she wouldn’t notice the bespectacled Kryptonian at the next desk.

She also went all in on the damsel-in-distress aspects of the character: when Lois is hanging from that helicopter in the first movie, Kidder plays her panic and terror rather than trying to brave it out.

Kidder also took plenty of conventional roles, sharing the screen with Robert Redford in The Great Waldo Pepper, with Peter Fonda and Warren Oates in the thriller 92 In The Shade, directed by then-husband Thomas McGuane with Michael Ontkean and Ray Sharkey in Paul Mazursky’s Truffaut riff Willie & Phil and with future Superman III co-star Richard Pryor in the Vietnam-vet drama Some Kind Of Hero. (The two shared no scenes in the super-sequel, as Kidder’s Lois is restricted to brief appearances at the prologue and epilogue.)

And she used her newfound bankability to get some movies made up in Canada, too, co-starring with Annie Potts in Don Shebib’s buddy comedy Heartaches in 1981. No one remembers it now, but she’s pretty great, tearing into the role of the big-hearted bohemian who takes the more staid Potts – newly pregnant, and newly single – under her wing. Kidder didn’t get a lot of leading roles, but Heartaches demonstrates she would have easily been able to carry a film.

Kidder worked constantly in film and television throughout the 70s and 80s, drawing media attention for her relationships as much as for her work. She dated de Palma, Steven Spielberg, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Pryor, among others, and was married to the actor John Heard for six days in 1979.

The tabloid coverage peaked in 1996 when she went missing for several days in Los Angeles, suffering a manic episode that led to her being found in severe distress and remanded to psychiatric care. Kidder went public with her diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and became an advocate for mental-health issues in subsequent years.

She worked steadily in the years that followed, doing voice work and guest spots in dozens of television shows, appearing at conventions and turning up as one of the horror-veteran cameos in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. Her final roles were as a member of Frank D’Angelo’s repertory company, popping up in the Toronto filmmaker’s Real Gangsters, The Big Fat Stone, No Deposit, The Red Maple Leaf and last year’s The Neighborhood.

She was an actor of remarkable texture, and she’ll be missed. Check out that first Superman movie again, and you’ll see layers to Lois that you missed on your last viewing – the character beats, sure, but also the way she dresses and moves. Kidder’s playing a contemporary woman who’s lived through the Women’s Lib movement, and who wears her politics and her cynicism like armour.

Watching her slowly drop that self-protection over the course of that date with Superman, revealing a woman who wants to believe in the idea of someone uncomplicated and genuinely good, is one of the deeper pleasures of that movie. It takes a gifted and very self-aware actor to pull off something like that and not look like a dope.

Kidder made it look so very easy. | @wilnervision

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