Kathleen Turner turned 58 on June 19th, and seeing her today and considering the place she’s at in her career and the kind of work she’s doing, she is showing every bit of her age, and that’s a good thing. She made her mark at the age of 25 with her sex appeal and her deep, sultry voice in what is still considered one of the sexiest movies of all time, Body Heat. Today her trademark voice remains, but it’s huskier and more like a deep growl than a seductive purr. Her face is etched with wrinkles – marks of wisdom, of perseverance and of experience. She’s lived, struggled and dealt with pain, and all of that is evident in her body and in her face.
She’s become the queen of the stage at this junction in her career and she’s endured a lot to get there. In her forties, she was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that attacks the bones. In the beginning there was a good chance she’d be confined to a wheelchair. In order to combat severe and chronic pain and to retain her mobility, she took a heavy duty medication that altered her appearance. The medication caused puffiness in her face and bloating in her body. It also made her lose feeling in her hands sometimes causing her to fumble and drop things. She started drinking heavily to numb the pain and kept her illness under wraps. She’s had nine operations to insert titanium to support her joints and is now in remission.
On top of a physically debilitating illness, Turner suffered emotionally too. She divorced after 23 years of marriage, did a stint in rehab, suffered harsh criticism for the changes in her appearance, endured rumours about her alcoholism and received unfavourable publicity for it. Through it all she emerged stronger, in control of her physical pain and more devoted to her career than ever before.
She has found huge success on the stage in recent years earning rave reviews for her roles in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?and High while being offered other roles in classic works. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing Turner in High when it ran in Toronto, but I will never forget how much fun I had watching her string of great 80s films that are, to me, her best and most memorable movies.
I remember thinking that she and Michael Douglas were a real couple. Their onscreen chemistry in Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile seemed so natural and genuine. I loved watching those early films with Turner as Joan Wilder, the romance novelist who finds herself in one dangerous adventure after another. The verbal sparring between Turner and Douglas, the peril they managed to evade together and the way they fell in love through it all made for two wonderfully entertaining films.
In what I consider her best role, Turner plays a woman who passes out at her high school reunion and awakes in the year 1960 to find herself inhabiting her own 17-year-old self in Peggy Sue Got Married. The way she plays a 17-year-old girl is all physical. She changes her speech and her body language and it’s utterly captivating to see how believably she pulls it off. I remember watching that movie over and over again and never growing tired of it, just like another of her films of that decade – Who Framed Roger Rabbit where her signature voice was the star.
What are your favourite Kathleen Turner films? Let us know in the comments section.