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    Five Easy Pieces Actress Karen Black Dies at 74

    Karen Black Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images

    Karen Black matched wits with some of the best actors of her generation—and more than held her own.

    The actress, who earned an Oscar nomination playing Jack Nicholson's put-upon girlfriend in Five Easy Pieces, died today after battling ampullary cancer. She was 74.

    "She was an extraordinary human being in every area of her life," a rep for Black told E! News in confirming her passing.

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    "It is with great sadness that I have to report that my wife and best friend, Karen Black has just passed away, only a few minutes ago," her husband of 25 years, Stephen Eckelberry, wrote on Facebook. "Thank you all for all your prayers and love, they meant so much to her as they did to me."

    Eckelberry was Black's fourth husband. They had a daughter together, and Black also had a son with her third husband, actor-screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson.

    Black, who hailed from the Chicago suburbe of Park Ridge, had been acting for a decade before scoring her breakout role in the 1969 counterculture classic Easy Rider as Karen, one of two prostitutes who ends up on a bad acid trip with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper's journeying bikers.

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    The following year, Black got to watch Nicholson put in the greatest diner order for toast ever captured on film and otherwise suffer along as the pregnant waitress girlfriend of the actor's rich-kid piano prodigy turned oil roughneck in Five Easy Pieces—the role she is still most remembered for to this day.

    "Five Easy Pieces was really my first real movie," Black, who was ill and had been unable to attend a tribute screening of Easy Rider for her at Brooklyn's Nitehawk Cinema, told The New York Observer via email in April.

    "There was Easy Rider, but in this, I had the leading lady role. Jack was so validating, he gave me so much support...Jack and I had profound respect for one another. He's a great man."

    Black, who appeared in more than 200 TV shows and movies over the course of her nearly six-decade acting career, also played the blue-collar-but-sultry Myrtle Wilson in the Robert Redford version of The Great Gatsby, and had memorable roles in Portnoy's ComplaintThe Day of the LocustNashville, and the Alfred Hitchcock comedic thriller Family Plot.

    "I would say that I have greatly enjoyed working in certain movies," Black told the Observer. "And it's difficult for me to say that one has been better than another; it doesn't seem fair to me. I very much enjoyed doing Five Easy Pieces as well as Nashville. I loved doing a movie recently, called The Blue Tooth Virgin, by Russell Brown. I love working with Steve Balderson. I have found a kind of serenity in working with Ivan Passer. And there are other wonderful experiences that I have had. So I am just very thankful for the life I have lived."

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