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Last Updated: Monday, 4 October, 2004, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Psycho actress Janet Leigh dies
Janet Leigh pictured in 2003
Janet Leigh, pictured in 2003, was the mother of Jamie Lee Curtis
Actress Janet Leigh, best known for her role in classic thriller Psycho, has died at the age of 77.

Leigh died peacefully at her Beverly Hills home on Sunday, according to a spokeswoman for her daughter, Hollywood star Jamie Lee Curtis.

Leigh also starred in acclaimed movies in the 1940s, 50s and 60s including The Manchurian Candidate and Touch of Evil.

Her Oscar-nominated role as the victim of a shower stabbing in Hitchcock's Psycho became iconic in the film world.

Her husband Robert Brandt and daughters Kelly Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis were at her side when she died, the spokeswoman said.

She had been suffering from vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels, for a year.

Her starring role in Alfred Hitchcock's seminal 1960 thriller, Psycho, saw her play office worker Marion Crane who was stabbed in the shower by cross-dressing madman Norman Bates.

Janet Leigh in Psycho

"Perhaps more than any other actor, Leigh is not only associated with one film, she's associated with one scene," said Ian Freer, associate editor of film magazine Empire.

Nevertheless he described her career as "varied, successful and diverse", noting that Leigh ranked among the top 100 stars of all time in a 1995 Empire readers' survey.

The Psycho scene was compiled in 70-odd takes of two and three seconds each, for which Leigh spent seven days in the shower.

Although it was rumoured at the time that she was nude, she wore a flesh-coloured moleskin.

The scene shocked audiences at the time because of its brutality, and was shot in black and white to make the scenes involving blood less distressing.

Oscar nomination

But it earned the actress an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress and a place in cinematic history.

It is notable for never showing the killer's blade touching Leigh's body, while the stabbing noises were created by plunging a knife into a melon.

Leigh admitted the chilling scene "scared the hell" out of her when she first saw the finished version.

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis
Actress Jamie Lee Curtis followed in her mother's on-screen footsteps
"Making it and seeing it are two different things," she said.

"That staccato music and the knife flashing. You'd swear it's going into the body."

She often said she had not been able to take a shower since the movie, saying: It's not a hype, not something I thought would be good for publicity, honest to gosh it's true."

Born Jeanette Helen Morrison, Leigh began a film career after silver screen idol Norma Shearer spotted Leigh's photograph on the front desk of the ski resort where her father worked.

That led to a screen test in the late 1940s, with her most memorable appearance to come in her shocking, screaming demise at the Bates Motel in Psycho in 1960.

'Scream queen'

But her big screen pulling power faded later in the 1960s, with TV roles mixed with supporting movie parts in the 1970s.

Her "scream queen" status also led to cameo roles in Jamie Lee Curtis' 1998 horror sequel Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and A Fate Totally Worse Than Death in 2000.

"She was aware that she was a horror icon and had fun with it," said Empire's Ian Freer.

Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh in The Manchurian Candidate
She will probably always be known for the Manchurian Candidate and having an unfortunate shower
Nev Pierce, Total Film magazine

Leigh's scene from Psycho was named the best death in screen history by Total Film magazine in May.

"She will probably always be known for the Manchurian Candidate and having an unfortunate shower," said Nev Pierce, Total Film's reviews editor.

He added: "But it would not be fair to say that the scene's success was just because of Hitchcock. Other Hitchcock actresses, such as Tippi Hedren, did not go on to become such big stars as Leigh."

BBC Radio 4 critic Quentin Cooper said Leigh was expert at playing characters "of dubious morality".

"A lot of people only remember her from Psycho's shower scene, rather than the sexy, independent and slightly criminal character she played from the first scene of the movie," he said.

There was always a sense with Janet Leigh that there was more going on than met the eye
Quentin Cooper, film critic
""She had a great face, a slightly cheeky look, and she tended to wear very clinging costumes."

Cooper said her role alongside Charlton Heston in 1958 thriller Touch of Evil helped it become arguably Orson Welles' greatest movie.

"There was always a sense with Janet Leigh that there was more going on than met the eye," he said.

"Thanks to Psycho she was perhaps cinema's most famous victim, but she deserves to be remembered as a much more dynamic and subtle actress than that."

Psycho stabbing 'best film death'
20 May 04  |  Entertainment
Psycho 'most thrilling film ever'
13 Jun 01  |  Entertainment


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