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Katherine Helmond, the face of Brazil's most unsettling scene, dies at 89

By Christian Long
Katherine Helmond Brazil

Katherine Helmond passed away last week of complications from Alzheimer’s at the age of 89. The news was first reported today by The Wrap.

A prolific character actress, Helmond's career stretches across seven decades. She started in theater, eventually following an off-Broadway production of The House of Blue Leaves to Los Angeles, where she soon made it big.

After numerous one-off roles in sitcoms throughout the '60s, she became a staple of '70s and '80s sitcoms like Soap and Who's the Boss. Helmond was also no stranger to genre, and appeared in series like The Bionic Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Batman: The Animated Series (where she voiced the character of Connie Stromwell).

However, one of her most memorable (and deeply unsettling) contributions to genre came on the big screen, when she portrayed the wealthy, status-hungry socialite Mrs. Ida Lowry in Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Helmond was hand-picked by Gilliam, who offered her the role over the phone with the following pitch: "I have a part for you, and I want you to come over and do it, but you're not going to look very nice in it."

The scene in question involves some routine cosmetic surgery for Ida, which includes her plastician stretching and stuffing her skin behind her head in an effort to make her look half as young. It stands out as an unforgettable moment in a film that is chock-full of unforgettable moments.

In more recent years, Helmond appeared in HBO's True Blood, provided the voice of Lizzie in all three Cars movies as well as a handful of spinoffs and video games, and of course was the Mint Hotel desk clerk in another Gilliam classic, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Helmond is survived by David Christian, her husband of 57 years.