A Christmas Story And Close Encounters Of The Third Kind Actress Melinda Dillon Is Dead At 83

Melinda Dillon in A Christmas Story
(Image credit: MGM)

Melinda Dillion, an actress best known for playing Ralphie’s mother in A Christmas Story and being the leading actress in one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, has died at the age of 83. The actress was also nominated for two Oscars and earned a Tony nomination for a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

News of her death comes via her family (per The Hollywood Reporter), who shared that the actress died on January 9, 2023. The actress had been retired from acting, with her final appearance on screen being during a 2007 guest spot on the medical drama Heartland

The actress leaves behind a large body of work, having over 60 credits in movies and television dating back over sixty years, along with memorably uttering the famous line “You’ll shoot your eye out!” as a part of A Christmas Story cast. Also among her memorable roles is playing Rose Gator in Magnolia alongside Tom Cruise and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Dillon was also Nancy Henderson in the 1987 comedy Harry and the Hendersons

The actress was born on October 13, 1939 and was raised in Arkansas. Melissa Dillon broke out into acting in a big way when she played Honey in her 1962 Broadway debut, a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Her first role in a feature film was the 1969 Jack Lemmon-led romantic comedy The April Fools. At the age of 37, the actress was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Female Acting Debut in the 1976 Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory

1977 was a particularly big year for the actress considering she starred in Steven Spielberg’s science fiction epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind, playing the mother of a three-year-old child who gets abducted by aliens. Also in 1977, the actress was part of Paul Newman's ice hockey movie Slap Shot. Dillon earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role in Close Encounters before being considered for the same golden trophy once more for 1981’s Absence of Malice, also with Newman. 

Melinda Dillon was married to actor Richard Libertini from 1968 and 1978, and during their union, the pair had a son, Richard Libertini Jr. Her ex-husband died of cancer back in 2016. Further details of Dillon’s personal life are rather scarce. 

Hollywood returned to A Christmas Story this past year, following the Melinda Dillon movie being on everyone’s festive binging year after year with the recent HBO Max sequel, A Christmas Story Christmas, starring Peter Billingsley’s Ralphie all grown up and other familiar faces, but Dillon was not involved. Instead, Ralphie's mom was played by Julie Hagerty.

CinemaBlend sends love to the family, friends and fans of Melinda Dillon following her January death. The actress will live on through her work in movies and television from now on. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.