Glenne Headly, an early member of the acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre Company who went on to star in films and on TV, died Thursday night, according to her agent. She was 62.
“It is with deep sorrow that we confirm the passing of Glenne Headly,” her representative, Annie Schmidt, said.
Headly died in Santa Monica of complications from a pulmonary embolism, The New York Times reported, according to her husband.
Headly was known from her performances in the movies “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” with Steve Martin and Michael Caine, “Mr. Holland’s Opus” with Richard Dreyfuss and Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy.”
On TV, she was in the miniseries “Lonesome Dove” and had recurring roles on “ER” and “Monk.” She played the daughter of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in the 2001 live telecast of the play “On Golden Pond.”
Last summer, she was seen in HBO’s drama miniseries “The Night Of.” And she had been in production for the upcoming Hulu sitcom “Future Man,” from Seth Rogen, who said she was “an amazing person. Incredibly talented. Incredibly kind.”
In 1979, Headly was recruited by Chicago’s budding Steppenwolf Theatre Company, joining such fellow up-and-comers as Gary Sinise, Laurie Metcalf, Terry Kinney and John Malkovich, who would become her first husband. They divorced in 1988.
Headly was a member of Steppenwolf’s ensemble from 1979 to 2005. According to the theater company, she won Jeff Awards with Steppenwolf for work in “Say Goodnight, Gracie,” “Balm in Gilead,” “The Miss Firecracker Contest” and “Coyote Ugly.”
“Her extraordinary talent, comic genius and unwavering work ethic was a driving force in the ensemble’s early growth and success,” Steppenwolf members said in a written statement Friday. “Without question, she left an indelible impact on our company and our hearts. We will be forever grateful that she was a part of the Steppenwolf family.”
Headly was born in New London, Conn., and grew up in New York.
“I lived there from the time I was 5 until I was 16,” she said in a 1986 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “My mother, who studied acting at Beaver College in Pennsylvania, worked as a secretary in the arts department of Newsweek magazine. She had been married to a man whom she divorced when I was very young, and he died. So I grew up with a single parent. But she was really strict, and I was educated in the arts.”
She went to college in Leysin, Switzerland, not planning to do theater at first.
“I knew I could always study drama,” she said in the 1986 interview. “So that’s why I took art history and English literature. But after the first year, when the dollar went way down, they agreed to give me a scholarship because my grades had been good. And they asked me to put together a drama department. The first play we did was Genet’s ‘The Maids.’
“I came home from Switzerland at the end of 1976, took a Shakespearean poetry reading class, read the trade papers, sent out pictures and resumes. And worked as a waitress.”
She was waitressing at a restaurant in New York City till 4 in the morning and living with her Pekinese named Yang in a one-room office with no water in an office building in SoHo where she washed her hair in a custodian’s sink down the hall.
“A man I went out with was from Chicago, so I came on a holiday here with him to meet his parents,” she told the Sun-Times. “The second time I came to visit him, I knew it would never work out under any circumstances. But I thought this town was really something. It was summer, and everyone was in the lake. I’ll never forget that shock. ‘What are they doing?’ I asked. ‘Are they normal?’ You can’t go in the Hudson River no matter how hot it gets. I saw sailboats. People were water-skiing.
“Then, I saw a house near Oz Park and Webster, and I asked where I was. I didn’t think I could possibly be in the city because it had a white picket fence. So I thought, I’m moving.
“So I went back to New York and told the cook in the restaurant kitchen, and he said, ‘Sweetheart, go ahead and move.’ ”
She had no money, so she came to Chicago in a van with a stranger who was looking for riders, got a studio apartment three blocks from the house with the white picket fence for $150 a month and got a waitress job at the old 2350 Pub.
“In the Sunday papers, I read about the New Works Ensemble at St. Nicholas Theater, tried out and got hired,” Headly said in that interview. “I met John at an advance scene-study class.”
She started at Steppenwolf in 1979, joining the company with John Mahoney, Rondi Reed and Francis Guinan. The following year, the troupe — which had been performing in an 88-seat space in the basement of Immaculate Conception Church and School in Highland Park, moved to the city, initially to a theater space at the Jane Addams Center on Broadway. That was the year it had a big hit with “Balm in Gilead,” which moved to the Apollo Theater Center.
Headly is survived by husband Byron McCulloch, a musician and metal worker whom she married in 1993, and their son Stirling.