Sally Kellerman, the Oscar-nominated actress known for her role as Nurse "Hot Lips" in M*A*S*H, died on Thursday following a battle with dementia, her son confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 84.
Born on June 2, 1937 in Long Beach, California, Kellerman first discovered her love of acting in a production of Meet Me in St. Louis performed at Hollywood High School. At age 20, she made her onscreen debut in 1957's Reform School Girl, a tawdry crime drama starring Gloria Castillo.
After a decade of roles on TV – the most memorable being as Starfleet doctor Elizabeth Dehner in a 1966 episode of Star Trek -- Kellerman's breakthrough came when she was cast as Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan in Robert Altman's Korean War black comedy, M*A*S*H. It's a role she nearly turned down.
"I had been promised a 'best part' in the film, and I counted the lines and just felt I had been misled," she said in a 2013 interview. "I thought I would never get in the movies, and I huffed and puffed and hated this stranger [Altman] that I didn't even know, wanting so much for this woman, this character, in this picture. And he said, 'You’ll either have something or nothing.' And I went with it."
M*A*S*H was released in 1970 and became a hit, earning five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for Altman and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Kellerman. The role inspired the title of her 2013 memoir, Read My Lips: Stories of a Hollywood Life.
The actress would go on to collaborate with Altman on numerous more films, including 1970's Brewster McCloud, 1992's The Player and 1994's Pret-a-Porter, as well as a 1997 episode of the ABC series, Gun, which Altman executive produced. Other notable roles included 1972's Last of the Red Hot Lovers and 1986's Back to School opposite Rodney Dangerfield, as well as her role as Constance Bingham on The Young and the Restless.
In addition to acting, Kellerman was a singer, having signed her first record contract with Verve Records at age 18. She went on two release two albums, 1972's Roll with the Feelin' and 2009's Sally. "My music has just been a passion that just wouldn't die," she said in a 2015 interview. "I never wanted one without the other. But I wanted soul, and so I wanted to be the real deal -- a real singer, not just an actor who sings, you know?"