It was Kathleen Turner’s gravelly voice, sheer talent, and indomitable spirit that took her from drama school grad to Hollywood superstar. After starring in Body Heat in 1981, Turner’s career went from strength to strength, and by now she’s performed a variety of illustrious roles on both screen and stage.
With two Golden Globes, two Tony Award nominations, and an Academy Award nomination under her belt, Turner’s certainly made a success of breaking into Hollywood. Here are some facts you might not have known about her.
20. She used to perform her own stunts
Not one to shy away from getting her hands dirty, Turner has performed many of her own stunts.
The actress performed some potentially perilous feats in films such as Romancing the Stone, V.I. Warshawski and Undercover Blues.
She also performed the famous chandelier-swinging scene in The War of the Roses herself.
As much as Turner wanted to do all her own stunts, production teams sometimes had to dissuade her from attempting riskier feats.
Turner even wanted to swing across a gorge on a vine herself in Romancing the Stone.
However, she was forbidden from doing so by the stunt team – as well as director Robert Zemeckis and producer/co-star Michael Douglas – as it was just too dangerous.
19. Her father spent four years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during World War II
Turner’s father, Allen Richard Turner, was a US diplomat who was brought up in China.
When World War II broke out, Turner Sr. was held as a prisoner of war there by the Japanese for four years.
When the US liberated China in 1945, Turner’s father’s fluency in Mandarin and Cantonese was seen as a valuable asset and he was immediately drafted into the Foreign Service.
Allen Turner continued to work as a diplomat for the rest of his life, before passing away in 1972.
Speaking to the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, Turner confessed that her father hardly spoke about his imprisonment.
As such, she had to fill in the blanks by looking elsewhere: “over the years, I’ve learned more about him from other people.”
18. She grew up in Canada, Venezuela, Cuba and England – but considers herself American
As Kathleen Turner’s father was a diplomat, she and her family moved around a lot when Kathleen was a child.
Of her siblings (she has a sister and two brothers), she was the only one to be born in America, on 19th June 1954 in Springfield, Missouri.
The Turners lived at different times in Canada, Venezuela, Cuba, and England, and Kathleen began attending The American School in London in 1969.
It was during their time in London that Turner became interested in acting, although her parents did not approve of this at first.
Nonetheless, Turner pursued her passion, and would continue to do so when the family returned to Missouri following her father’s sudden death, shortly before her high school graduation in 1972.
Despite dotting around the globe during her formative years, Turner has always remained a staunch patriot and considers herself American through and through – although she confesses her old English accent naturally resurfaces whenever she finds herself talking to a Brit.
17. Her first movie made her a sex symbol overnight
Most movie actors start out in smaller supporting roles before working their way up to playing the lead – but this wasn’t the case for Kathleen Turner.
Turner landed her very first movie role as the female lead of the 1981 erotic thriller Body Heat.
Prior to this, Turner’s only screen credits were a recurring role on TV soap opera The Doctors.
Body Heat writer-director Lawrence Kasdan specifically sought out unknowns for his leads, casting Turner alongside William Hurt (who had himself made only two films beforehand).
Turner’s performance as femme fatale Matty Walker captivated audiences and critics, and made the actress an immediate superstar and sex symbol.
Praising the film and Turner’s performance, critic Roger Ebert said that “in her debut role [Turner] played a woman so sexually confident that we can believe her lover… could be dazed into doing almost anything for her.”
16. She deliberately took comedy roles to avoid typecasting as a vamp
After the success of Body Heat, Turner perhaps unsurprisingly found herself swamped with offers to play more oversexed seductresses.
Wary of typecasting, Turner made a point of steering clear of such roles, and instead moved toward comedy.
Her second movie role was opposite Steve Martin in the zany 1983 movie The Man with Two Brains.
Then, in 1984, Turner really broke through to the mainstream alongside Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone.
This romantic-comedy adventure was a massive hit, establishing Douglas as a major leading man, and launching the career of director Robert Zemeckis.
Even so, Turner didn’t entirely steer clear of vampish roles, as 1984 also saw her appear in Crimes of Passion, another racy film in the vein of Body Heat.
15. Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas made a bet about who would sleep with her – but she rejected them all
Turner has never been shy about dishing the dirt on her contemporaries in Hollywood – in particular those who’ve done wrong by her.
In 2018, the actress spoke out regarding the film legends (and infamous womanisers) Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas.
In a frank interview, Turner revealed, “I understood later, from Michael Douglas, that there was a competition between him, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty about who would get me first.”
The actress stressed, “None of them did, by the by. I don’t like being thought of as a trophy.” (However, Turner has hinted that she and Douglas at one time came close to having an affair.)
Turner co-starred with Michael Douglas three times, in Romancing the Stone, The Jewel of the Nile and The War of the Roses (all of which co-starred Danny DeVito, who also directed the latter film). In 2019 Turner worked with Douglas once more, in an episode of his acclaimed Netflix series The Kominsky Method.
Turner also acted alongside Jack Nicholson in 1985’s Prizzi’s Honor, but she has never made a film with Warren Beatty.
14. She went uncredited as the voice of Jessica Rabbit
In the first test footage shot for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the role of Jessica Rabbit was taken by Russi Taylor (the longest-serving voice actress of Minnie Mouse).
However, when Robert Zemeckis was brought on to direct the film, he suggested that Turner take the role.
This marked the second time that Turner had worked with Zemeckis, following 1984’s Romancing the Stone.
Turner was happy to accept – she was pregnant at the time and welcomed a voice-acting job, which required no physical exertion on her part. Indeed, the actress has said she was in the studio recording Jessica Rabbit dialogue when her waters broke.
It was a good call, and Turner’s husky voice remains a perfect fit for Jessica Rabbit’s sultry character – although Amy Irving provided the singing voice.
Turner would voice Jessica again in the Roger Rabbit shorts Tummy Trouble, Roller Coaster Rabbit and Trail Mix-Up.
13. She turned down the role of Molly in Ghost because she thought the film would flop
1990’s Ghost was a huge hit that helped leading lady Demi Moore become one of the most famous actresses of that decade.
However, before Moore wound up landing the role, Kathleen Turner was among the many actresses offered the part of Molly Jenson.
Turner said no, apparently believing the film was certain to be a flop. How wrong she was: Ghost landed multiple Oscar nominations and made over $500 million at the box office.
Moore’s wide-eyed, innocent demeanour was a fantastic fit for Molly’s unassuming character, so perhaps everything worked out for the best in the end.
Still, Turner wasn’t the only one unconvinced by the script for Ghost: the role of Molly was also turned down by Andie MacDowell, Debra Winger, Mary Steenburgen and Geena Davis.
Ditto (pun intended) for Patrick Swayze’s character Sam, which was declined by Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson and others first.
12. Rheumatoid arthritis derailed her career in the 90s
Turner remained one of Hollywood’s leading lights until the early 1990s, when she began to suffer from chronic discomfort.
The actress began experiencing severe joint pain on the set of Serial Mom in 1992.
The following year, Turner was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a long term condition with no cure.
The level of pain Turner was experiencing made it difficult to work, and as such her screen appearances became more sporadic.
Happily, after new treatments became available at the turn of the century, her arthritis eventually went into remission and by the mid-2000s Turner was able to fully resume work again.
Unfortunately, as Hollywood tends to be less welcoming to women as they get older, Turner’s career has never reached the same heights of her younger days.
11. She struggled with alcohol as she increasingly used it to numb the pain of arthritis
Turner has admitted that, as the pain of her rheumatoid arthritis increased, so too did her dependence on alcohol.
Turner says, “I thought I could control the pain of my illness better with alcohol than I could with pain medication.”
She chose to avoid prescription drugs because “I thought that would be an immediate path to addiction; I never thought alcohol would. Then I did, of course, abuse it.”
Initially, Turner says she only drank heavily at home, but soon found it had an impact on her professional life as well.
Turner got a serious wake-up call after passing out in the bathroom during rehearsals for a Broadway play.
Following this production, Turner went to rehab and attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for six months.
10. She was sued by Nicolas Cage over allegations she made about him in her autobiography
Nicolas Cage was not happy when Turner published her autobiography, Send Yourself Roses, in 2008.
Turner had worked with Cage on 1986’s Peggy Sue Got Married, and had not found him the easiest actor to work with.
However, on top of detailing the nature of their working relationship, Turner also made some fairly serious allegations about Cage.
In the book, Turner claims that while Peggy Sue Got Married was in production, Cage was arrested twice for drunk-driving and, bizarrely, for stealing a Chihuahua.
Cage took Turner and her publishers to court, suing on grounds of defamation and damage to character – and he won the case.
Turner was forced to apologise and admit publicly that the allegations were untrue, as well as pay for Cage’s legal costs and make a substantial charitable donation. Awkward!
9. She introduced herself to Hollywood legend Lauren Bacall by saying “Hi, I’m the young you”
As soon as Turner made her breakthrough in Body Heat, film buffs began to make comparisons between this new actress and a certain Golden Age star.
Yes, Turner was widely declared to be the new Lauren Bacall – and it was a natural connection to draw.
Both women found fame in ‘femme fatale’ roles, were possessed with a sense of self-effacing sensuality and, perhaps most importantly, both were gifted with unusually deep voices.
Turner tapped into the media comparisons when she first met Bacall, playfully introducing herself by saying “Hi, I’m the young you.”
Whenever Bacall and Turner ran into each other thereafter, they would jokingly compete to see who could get their voice the lowest.
Sadly, the two actresses never got around to working together before Bacall passed away in 2014, just shy of her 90th birthday.
8. She only did The Jewel of the Nile because the studio threatened to take legal action if she quit
Following the success of Romancing the Stone, studio 20th Century Fox and producer/star Michael Douglas were eager to make a sequel straight away.
However, follow-up film The Jewel of the Nile (which opened a mere year after its predecessor, in 1985) was a troubled production from the beginning.
Director Robert Zemeckis did not return as he was busy making Back to the Future. Meanwhile, Douglas did not re-hire Romancing the Stone’s screenwriter Diane Thomas because her asking price had gone up.
Turner was hugely dissatisfied with the script and angry that Thomas had been snubbed, although the writer was eventually brought in to do some rewrites. (Tragically, Thomas died in a car accident shortly before the sequel was released.)
So great was Turner’s dissatisfaction with The Jewel of the Nile that she tried to drop out of it completely, but the studio then threatened her with a $25 million breach of contract lawsuit if she didn’t make the movie.
Production on The Jewel of the Nile was further marred by the death of the film’s production manager and production designer in a plane crash, making it a very unhappy experience all around. The film was ultimately met with lukewarm reviews and more modest box office success.
7. Matthew Perry still calls her ‘Dad’ after she played Chandler’s father in Friends
Turner’s profile had fallen considerably by the late 90s, so getting a high-profile guest appearance on the most popular TV sitcom of the time was a pretty big deal.
However, Turner’s role on the much-loved Friends also represents one of the moments from the show that has aged very badly.
Turner made her appearance in Friends during the seventh series, appearing as Chandler’s dad, Charles Bing. According to Turner, Matthew Perry still affectionately calls her ‘Dad’ whenever she encounters the actor.
The show skirted around the specifics of Charles’ gender identity, with Turner’s role going by he/him pronouns while outwardly presenting as female.
Conscious that times have changed, Turner admitted in 2019 that she would nottake the same role if she was offered it now, 20 years later.
Turner has also said in the years since that she “didn’t feel very welcomed” by the cast of Friends, who she said behaved like a “clique.”
6. She began working as an acting teacher after movie roles began to dry up
Post-2000, when Turner’s screen appearances became more sporadic, she moved into another field of acting, that of a teacher.
Turner began teaching a course in practical acting at New York University, which she entitled ‘Shut Up and Do It.’
Turner gave out more of such no-nonsense advice to aspiring actors by publishing a book in the subject in 2018.
Kathleen Tuner on Acting: Conversations About Film, Theater and Television features Turner discussing her career and practical lessons on stagecraft with film scholar Dustin Morrow.
Concurrent with her move into teaching, Turner also tried her hand at directing theatre for the first time in 2008.
Following her first production, Crimes of the Heart, Turner directed a second Off-Broadway show in 2015 entitled Would You Still Love Me If…
5. She’s done more voice acting than you might realise
Turner famously lent her distinctive tones to Jessica Rabbit, but Who Framed Roger Rabbit isn’t the only time the actress voiced a cartoon character.
Turner has clocked up a respectable number of animation voice credits, including her appearance as the creator of the Malibu Stacy doll in 1994 The Simpsons episode Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy.
Later, Turner voiced the title character in a 1995 English dub of Russian animated film The Snow Queen, as well as appearing in three episodes of animated sitcom King of the Hill in 2000.
Then in 2006, Turner took the role of Constance, the angry giantess whose ghost possesses the pivotal abode of animated movie Monster House.
In the case of Monster House, this wasn’t simply a voice acting job, as the film was brought to life via performance capture techniques, the actors performing the movements on a blank set from which the CGI characters were later built.
The film was co-produced by Turner’s old collaborator Robert Zemeckis, who pitched her the role by saying, “you played the sexiest animated character [Jessica Rabbit], now you can play the ugliest.”
Since then, Turner has also voiced herself in a 2017 episode of Family Guy, and featured in a 2019 episode of Rick and Morty.
4. She was married for 22 years, and has one daughter
Turner may have been one of the most lusted-after actresses of her generation, but all through the height of her fame she was married.
Turner wed Jay Weiss, a New York City real estate developer and entrepreneur, in 1984.
In 1987 (whilst voicing Jessica Rabbit), Turner gave birth to their first and only child, Rachel Ann Weiss – not to be confused with the English actress of the same name.
Turner and Weiss stayed together for many years, but decided to divorce in 2007, when Turner was 53.
Reflecting on the matter in 2017, Turner told the Daily Mail, “I had a 22-year marriage and tried to be accommodating,” but she says ultimately the spark died between them.
Turner has not remarried, but says that she and Weiss “parted quite amicably” and remain good friends.
3. She’s only been Oscar-nominated once, for Peggy Sue Got Married
It may come as a surprise given the lengthy career she’s had, but Kathleen Turner has only once been nominated for an Academy Award.
Turner got a nod in the coveted Best Actress category for 1986’s Peggy Sue Got Married, but lost out to Marlee Matlin in Children of a Lesser God.
Still, while Turner has yet to be nominated for an Oscar a second time, she’s picked up a few accolades elsewhere.
Two years in a row she won Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes, for Romancing the Stone and Prizzi’s Honor.
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association named her Actress of the Year in 1984 for Romancing the Stone and Crimes of Passion, and the National Board of Review named her Best Actress for Peggy Sue Got Married.
Turner has also received two Tony Award nominations for her stage work, named in the Best Actress in a Play category for 1990’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and 2005’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
2. She played V.I. Warshawski on radio as well as in the movie
V.I. Warshawski isn’t necessarily the most well-remembered of Kathleen Turner’s roles, but she’s played it more times than you might have known.
The character, a tough Chicago private investigator, originated in a series of novels by Sara Paretsky.
Turner won the role over such competition as Bette Midler and Jane Fonda for the 1991 movie directed by Jeff Kanew.
Although the smoky-voiced Turner was perfectly cast, V.I. Warshawski fared poorly with critics and proved to be a box office flop.
However, this didn’t stop Turner from playing the role again that same year in a series of radio adaptations of Paretsky’s novels produced for BBC Radio 4.
Turner voiced V.I. Warshawski in two radio plays, Deadlock and Killing Orders; a third was produced, Bitter Medicine, in which Cagney & Lacey actress Sharon Gless took over in the role.
1. Dame Maggie Smith is one of her good friends
Turner tentatively returned to acting after receiving treatment for her arthritis, returning to the same arena where her career began: the London stage.
In 2000, Turner appeared as the formidable Mrs Robinson in a West End adaptation of The Graduate, alongside Matthew Rhys (TV’s The Americans).
Maggie Smith was performing in the theatre next door around the same time, and the two leading ladies struck up a friendship.
In an interview with Village Voice, Turner was asked if she calls her dear friend by her official full title, Dame Maggie Smith.
With characteristic wit, Turner jokingly replied, “Maybe I should. Although she’d probably slap me.”