Shelley Duvall opens up about the family tragedy that led to her decades-long retirement

After more than two decades away from Hollywood, Shelley Duvall is ready to return to the spotlight.

The actress was an icon of the late '70s and early '80s after classic turns in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining alongside Jack Nicholson, and playing Olive Oyl opposite the late Robin Williams in 1980's Popeye, but her last film role was in 2002's Manna From Heaven.

For the last twenty years, she has lived in a small town in Texas Hill Country – she is originally from Fort Worth, Texas – and she has become a true local in her "one-stoplight town," a regular with go-to orders at most establishments in the area. But now she is gearing up to re-enter Hollywood.

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Shelley, 73, sat down with People amid her comeback – she stars in a new horror movie titled The Forest Hills – and opened up about what she has been up to during her two decades of seclusion.

She was first discovered in Texas and asked to audition for hallowed director Robert Altman's 1970 comedy Brewster McCloud; acting onscreen came naturally, she said.

While she says she never felt "beautiful" at the peak of her fame, Shelley was always aware of her gifts and instincts. To play Olive Oyl, for example, "All it took was to put on the costume, and I knew exactly how to play Olive."

The Shining poster with Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson
The Shining poster with Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson

One of her most famous roles is as Wendy Torrance in The Shining

She went on to star in another seven of Robert's films, and she remembers: "After Thieves Like Us, Robert [Altman] looked at me and said, 'I knew you were good, but I didn't know you were great.'"

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People reports she became teary-eyed when she added: "It's the reason I stuck with it and became an actress."

Shelley Duvall in the 1977s 3 Women
Shelley Duvall in the 1977s 3 Women

Shelley in 1977's 3 Women

Before long, however, the job offers began to dwindle. When one of her three brothers got diagnosed with spinal cancer, she packed up her things, moved to Texas, and officially retired in 2002. "It's the longest sabbatical I ever took," she says of her decision, adding: "But it was for really important reasons – to get in touch with my family again."

She was never nominated for an Oscar, but now she claims: "[Jessica Tandy] won an Oscar when she was 80. I can still win.

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