Estelle Louise Fletcher, who won a Best Actress Academy Award in 1976 for her performance as Nurse Ratched in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, died on September 23 at home in Montdurausse, France. She was 88 years old. 

Fletcher was one of four hearing children born to Robert Capers Fletcher, ’26 and Estelle Caldwell Fletcher, ’28. Her father was an Episcopal minister who traveled throughout nine southern states before focusing his ministry in Alabama. 

Fletcher attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. Possibly due to her height (5’ 10”), most of her roles were in Western films. She and her husband, film producer Jerry Bick, had two sons, John and Andrew, and she left acting for several years to focus full-time on her family. She returned to the silver screen in the 1974 film Thieves Like Us. Her performance caught the eye of Cuckoo’s Nest director Milos Forman, who offered her the role after several prominent actresses of the time turned it down. 

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, based on a 1962 novel by Ken Kesey, Fletcher plays the role of Nurse Ratched, the head administrative nurse at the Salem State Hospital. She is seen as a cruel tyrant, unafraid to deny her patients basic necessities, privileges, medication, or treatment. One of her most challenging patients is Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy, memorably played by Jack Nicholson.

Fletcher and Nicholson both received Academy Awards as Best Actress and Best Actor, respectively. The film also received Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. Only two other films, It Happened One Night (1934) and Silence of the Lambs (1991), have received all five major awards in the Academy’s history. 

Fletcher signed part of her Academy Award acceptance speech, paying homage to her deaf parents. In 1982, Gallaudet University awarded her the degree Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa. At this commencement, the first ever held at the new Gallaudet University Field House, she was the keynote speaker, and her father delivered the invocation.

In 2006, Roberta Fletcher Ray, one of Louise Fletcher’s siblings, donated to the Gallaudet University Archives a collection of family artifacts, including photographs, films, documents, and her father’s sermons. Rev. Fletcher was an Episcopal minister who served deaf congregations in nine southern states from 1931 to 1951, traveling on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad train line.  He continued to serve congregations in Alabama for many years, and died in March 1988, just before Deaf President Now. His wife, Estelle Fletcher, passed away in 1992.

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