Melinda Ruth Dillon (1939–2023)

Melinda Dillon was an American actress who appeared in dozens of movies, plays, and television shows. She was nominated for several major awards, including an Academy Award and a Tony Award; in addition, the Screen Actors Guild recognized her for her role in Magnolia (1999). Other memorable films include Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), A Christmas Story (1983), and Harry and the Hendersons (1987). She also appeared on television in episodes of Bonanza and the TV movie A Painted House (2003).

Melinda Ruth Dillon was born Melinda Ruth Clardy on October 13, 1939, in Hope (Hempstead County) to Floyd Clardy Jr. and Essie Norine Barnett Clardy. Following the death at birth of an older sibling, Dillon was delivered by Dr. Luther Mace Lile of Hope, who was known and trusted by the family. Shortly after Dillon’s birth, her parents returned to Cullman, Alabama, where they resided. Later citing “indignities,” Dillon’s mother divorced Clardy in Arkansas in 1947, and shortly afterward married Wilbur Dillon, an army officer, whom she had met while living in Alabama. From that time, Dillon lived with her mother and stepfather; though she was not legally adopted by him, she took his last name. Dillon’s stepfather’s army service took the family to Germany for a few years then to Chicago, Illinois, where Dillon graduated from high school at Hyde Park. She studied acting with both Lee Strasberg and at the Goodman School of Drama (now the Theater School at DePaul University) in Chicago. She married character actor Richard Libertini in New York in September 1963; they had one child and divorced in 1978.

Dillon began her career as an improvisational comedian and stage actress. She debuted as Honey in the original 1962 Broadway production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress. She soon moved into television and film, her first movie being The April Fools (1969). She was nominated for the Best Female Acting Debut Golden Globe for Bound for Glory (1976) as well as the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In 1982, she was again nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as a suicidal teacher in Absence of Malice. Dillon’s most famous role, however, was that of Ralphie’s beleaguered mother in Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story.

Four years later, she appeared opposite John Lithgow in the Bigfoot comedy Harry and the Hendersons. She has also performed on stage with Chicago’s legendary Second City improvisational comedy troupe, best known for giving rise to several Saturday Night Live cast members. Later films included the Barbra Streisand drama The Prince of Tides (1991), How to Make an American Quilt (1995), Magnolia, the TV adaptation of John Grisham’s A Painted House, and Reign over Me (2007). She also appeared in such television shows as Heartland.

Dillon died on January 9, 2023.

For additional information:
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind—Jillian Guiler.” Celebrity Sleuth 3.2 (1989): 74–75.

“Melinda Dillon.” Internet Movie Database. (accessed August 22, 2022).

Trevor, Joan Mac. “Mystérieuses Soucoupes Volantes: Et Si C’était Vrai?” Ciné-Revue, March 16, 1978, pp. 6–7.

C. L. Bledsoe
Ghoti magazine


    She also played Hanrahan’s wife in Slap Shot (1977).

    David Cooper