Award-winning actress, educator Shirley Knight dies at age 83

Inside TXST

Jayme Blashcke | April 22, 2020

knight headshot
Award-winning actress and educator Shirley Knight died Wednesday, April 22, from natural causes.

Award-winning actress and educator Shirley Knight died Wednesday, April 22, from natural causes at the home of her daughter, Kaitlin Hopkins.

Hopkins came to Texas State University as head of the musical theatre program in 2009. Since 2009, Knight has been a regular guest lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Texas State. A memorial service for Knight will be held in early 2021 in Los Angeles. The family requests that contributions be made to the Shirley Knight Memorial Fund at Texas State:

Standout performances in Knight’s over 60-year-plus acting career include: films The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (Academy Award nomination), Sweet Bird of Youth opposite Paul Newman (Academy Award nomination), The Group, Petulia, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People and Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman (Volpi Cup for Best Actress); theatre productions Lee Strasberg’s Three Sisters with Kim Stanley and Geraldine Page, The Young Man from Atlanta (Tony Award nomination) Kennedy’s Children (Tony Award); and television shows Indictment: The McMartin Trial (Emmy and Golden Globe Awards), NYPD Blue (Emmy Award), Thirtysomething (Emmy Award), Playing for Time and Desperate Housewives (Emmy nominations). In addition to her award-winning performances, Knight also appeared in such pop culture favorites as Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Stuart Saves His Family, Grandma’s Boy and As Good As It Gets.

Knight was born July 5, 1936, to Noel Knight and Virginia Webster in Goessel, Kansas. She spent her young life alongside her brother Donny and sister Gloria in Mitchell, Kansas, and later Lyons, Kansas, where she graduated from high school. Her education continued at Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma and Wichita State University. Knight was the recipient of an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts Degree from Lake Forest College. During her acting career, she studied with Jeff Corey and Lee Strasberg and became a member of the Actors Studio.

She began her acting career under contract at Warner Brothers Studios in 1955 and spent her early years doing classic television series like Rawhide, Playhouse 90 and 77 Sunset Strip. Over the next 60-plus years, Knight never stopped working, appearing in more than 40 different TV shows, more than 75 films and at least 30 major theatre productions. 

She also received many honors from her home state of Kansas, including the Kansan of the Year in 2000 and the Governor's Distinguished Artist Award in 2007.

Knight was preceded in death by her husband, award-winning writer John R. Hopkins, in 1998. She is survived by her stepdaughter, Justine Hopkins, and her two daughters, Sophie Jacks and Kaitlin Hopkins. 

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922