Oscar Winner Patricia Neal Dies at 84

Best known for her work in “Hud,” the award winning actress suffered a debilitating stroke that nearly ended her career

Last Updated: August 10, 2010 @ 11:18 AM

Patricia Neal, the whiskey voiced Oscar winning actress, died Sunday at her home in Edgartown, Massachusetts. She was 84. The cause was lung cancer, according to her friend, Edward Albers.

Best known for her work in “Hud,” as the housekeeper who carries a torch for Paul Newman’s iconic antihero, only to find their playful banter dissolve into a shocking rape, Neal endured real life tragedies that were as challenging as those she faced on screen or on  stage.

In 1965, at the height of her popularity and fresh off her Oscar victory for “Hud,” Neal suffered a debilitating stroke while filming John Ford’s “Seven Women.” She was left partially paralyzed and without the ability to speak.

With the often draconian assistance of her husband, the children’s book author Roald Dahl, Neal was eventually able to walk and talk again.

So successful was her recovery, that she returned to star in the 1968 film adaptation of Frank Gilroy’s hit play “The Subject Was Roses.” Her performance as a woman in a loveless marriage struggling to reconnect with her son earned her an Oscar nomination.

Neal got her start on Broadway at a young age, winning a Tony before age 21 for her debut in Lillian Hellman's "Another Part of the Forest." She also won a Donaldson Award and a New York Drama Critics Award.

Her film career started promisingly when Warner Bros. signed her to a multi-picture deal and soon cast her as Dominique in the film adaptation of Ayn Rand's seminal "The Fountainhead." The young actress was taken with her co-star, Gary Cooper, who played Howard Roark, beginning a passionate love affair with the much older actor

But the affair was short-lived and “The Fountainhead” flopped, as did her next film with Cooper, "Bright Leaf."

At one point she became pregnant with Cooper's child, but had an abortion — a decision she said she regretted for 30 years.

Both her personal and professional lives were soon in shambles, as she stumbled from one bad film to another. The only highlight being a lead role in Robert Wise's cult classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

She eventually parted ways with Warners, only to stumble into Lillian Hellman, who asked her to star in her play "The Children's Hour." During this time she met future husband Roald Dahl, with whom she would have five children.

Neal experienced an onstage revival in the 1950s, with "Suddenly Las Summer" and "The Miracle Worker," and soon wound up back in Hollywood with "A Face in the Crowd," "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "In Harm's Way," with John Wayne.

But tragedy would continue to visit Neal's family. When Neal and Dahl's son,Theo, was brain-damaged in 1960 by an incident with a New York City taxicab, the couple decided to move to the English countryside. Two years later, their 7-year-old daughter Olivia died of measles encephalitis — though she might've survived with New York's medical care.

And the strokes struck Neal again at age 39, when she was pregnant with her fifth child. Dahl pushed her on a daily basis to get better, forcing her to relearn much of which she'd already re-learned once before.

Neal gave birth to a healthy daughter six months later.

She returned to give a speech at a charity for brain-damaged children in 1967, and later said that in that moment she realized that her husband's constant badgering had brought her back from the brink. However, the couple were divorced in 1983 when Neal found out that her husband was sleeping with one of her best friends. He died in 1990.

Though she remained largely absent from the screen following her triumph with "Roses," Neal struck a lovely end note to her career with a finely etched performance as the title character in Robert Altman's 1999 ensemble comedy "Cookie's Fortune."

Neal is survived by her four children, a brother, a sister, 10 grandchildren and step grandchildren and a great-grandchild.