Louise Fletcher: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest actress dies aged 88

The actress died at her home in France (AP)
The actress died at her home in France (AP)

Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher, who shot to prominence as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, has died.

Fletcher, 88, died at her home in Montdurausse, France, her agent David Shaul said.

Fletcher was in her early 40s and little known when chosen for the role opposite Jack Nicholson in the 1975 film by director Milos Forman, who had admired her work the year before in director Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us.

At the time, she did not know that many other prominent stars, including Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn and Angela Lansbury, had turned it down.

"I was the last person cast," she recalled in a 2004 interview. "It wasn't until we were halfway through shooting that I realised the part had been offered to other actresses who didn't want to appear so horrible on the screen."

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest went on to become the first film since 1934's It Happened One Night, to win best picture, best director, best actor, best actress and best screenplay.

Clutching her Oscar at the 1976 ceremony, Fletcher told the audience: "It looks as though you all hated me."

She then addressed her deaf parents in Birmingham, Alabama, talking and using sign language: "I want to thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You are seeing my dream come true."

A moment of silence was followed by thunderous applause.

Later that night, Forman made the wry comment to Fletcher and her co-star, Jack Nicholson: "Now we all will make tremendous flops."

She was later nominated for Emmys for her guest roles on the TV series Joan of Arcadia and Picket Fences, and had a recurring role as Bajoran religious leader Kai Winn Adami in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She played the mother of musical duo Carpenters in 1989's The Karen Carpenter Story.

Fletcher was born the second of four children on July 22, 1934, in Birmingham. Her mother was born deaf and her father was a traveling Episcopal minister who lost his hearing when struck by lightning at age four.

“It was like having parents who are immigrants who don’t speak your language,” she said in 1982.

Fletcher moved to Los Angeles to launch her acting career soon after graduating from North Carolina State University.

Working as a doctor's receptionist by day and studying at night with noted actor and teacher Jeff Corey, she began getting one-day jobs on such TV series as Wagon Train, 77 Sunset Strip and The Untouchables.

Fletcher married producer Jerry Bick in the early 1960s and gave birth to two sons in quick succession. She decided to put her career on hold to be a stay-at-home mother and did not work for 11 years.

She divorced Bick in 1977 who died 2004.