Clayburgh was born in New York City, the daughter of Julia Louise (née Dorr 1910-1975), an actress and theatrical production secretary for producer David Merrick, and Albert Henry “Bill” Clayburgh, a manufacturing executive. Her paternal grandmother was concert and opera singer Alma Lachenbruch Clayburgh. Clayburgh’s mother was Protestant and her father came from a wealthy Jewish family. She was raised on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where she attended the Brearley School. She then attended Sarah Lawrence College, where she decided that she wanted to be an actress. Clayburgh married screenwriter and playwright David Rabe in 1979. They had one son, Michael Rabe, and one daughter, actress Lily Rabe. Prior to this, she had dated actor Al Pacino for five years (and briefly appeared with him in a November 1968 N.Y.P.D. episode, “Deadly Circle Of Violence”).
Clayburgh joined the Charles Street Repertory Theater in Boston. She made her Broadway debut in 1968 in The Sudden and Accidental Re-Education of Horse Johnson, and starred in a 1969 off-Broadway production of the Henry Bloomstein play Calling in Crazy, at the Andy Warhol owned Fortune theatre. She went on to appear in numerous Broadway productions in the 1970s and 1980s, including the musicals The Rothschilds in 1972 and Pippin in 1975. Clayburgh made her screen debut in The Wedding Party, filmed in 1963 but not released until six years later, and gained attention with roles such as the love interest of Gene Wilder in the 1976 comedy-mystery Silver Streak, co-starring Richard Pryor. She also starred in the critically acclaimed romantic drama Griffin and Phoenix, opposite Peter Falk.
The first of her two nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress was for 1978’s An Unmarried Woman, for which she won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival (tied with Isabelle Huppert), while the second was for 1979’s Starting Over, a comedy with Burt Reynolds. She also received strong notices for a dramatic performance in I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can. Her other films include Portnoy’s Complaint, Gable and Lombard (in which she portrayed screen legend Carole Lombard), as a pro football team owner’s daughter in Semi-Tough, as a mathematician in It’s My Turn (in which she teaches the proof of the snake lemma), as a conservative Supreme Court justice in First Monday in October and in Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial La Luna, a role in which her character masturbates her son in an attempt to ease his withdrawal from heroin.Television audiences know Clayburgh from numerous roles in series and movies including Law & Order, The Practice and as Ally McBeal’s mother. She received Emmy Award nominations for her work in the made-for-television movie Hustling in 1975 and for guest appearances in the series Nip/Tuck in 2005.
In 2006, she appeared on Broadway in Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park with Patrick Wilson and Amanda Peet; she played Peet’s mother, a role originated by Mildred Natwick. She also returned to the screen as a therapist’s eccentric wife in the all-star ensemble dramedy Running With Scissors, an autobiographical tale of teenage angst and dysfunction based on the book by Augusten Burroughs. During 2007, Clayburgh appeared in the ABC television series Dirty Sexy Money, playing Letitia Darling. Clayburgh had chronic lymphocytic leukemia for more than 20 years before dying from the disease at her home in Salisbury, Connecticut, on November 5, 2010. The movie Love & Other Drugs was dedicated to her memory. The 2011 film Bridesmaids was Clayburgh’s final film appearance.
- April, 30, 1944
- New York, New York
- November, 05, 2010
- Salisbury, Connecticut
Cause of Death
- chronic lymphocytic leukemia
- Cremated, Ashes given to family