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One of horror’s most memorable scream queens is sadly silent today, as actress Marilyn Burns has died. Rising to instant cult stardom as the female lead in Tobe Hooper’s seminal 1974 thriller The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Burns lived most of her life offscreen, but will forever be remembered by film fans everywhere. She was 65 years old.
Her death was first reported by TMZ, who said a family member found Burns inside of her Texas home on Tuesday, August 5. As of now, no cause of death has been made official, and the Medical Examiner’s Office in Houston will reportedly be performing an autopsy to determine what happened.
Even though Burns is no longer with us, she will always be one of cinema’s most iconic survivors, outliving her fictional brother and friends in Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre, serving as what was arguably the first Final Girl in horror. (Or at least the first one that inspired the nomenclature.) Burns got the part of Sally Hardesty mostly due to her stage performances at the University of Austin, where director Hooper was working. The film’s completely independent production has been widely regarded as a truly disgusting experience, and Burns had to go through some horrors of her own in playing the intended victim of Leatherface, quite possibly the most deranged killer in the genre. And that final scene, no matter how much hope may lie on the other side of it, makes for some truly unsettling credits.
Burns followed up her breakout role by starring as Family member Linda Kasabian in the TV movie version of Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry’s true crime book Helter Skelter, which chronicled the trial and investigation into Charles Manson and the Tate-LaBianca murders. From there, she reteamed with Hooper in 1977 for the "cheap hotel with a killer crocodile" horror Eaten Alive, in which the Kill Bill line "My name is Buck and I like to fuck," was originally uttered by Robert Englund.
Between then and her brief appearance in 1994’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, Burns was in the Fabian-starring 1981 horror Kiss Daddy Goodbye and 1985’s horror comedy Future-Kill. Skip to 2012, when she took a role in the indie horror Butcher Boys and a canon-defying cameo in 2013’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D. Her final two roles were in Shawn Ewert’s recently released barbecue-filled thriller Sacrament and Josh Vargas’ currently unreleased In a Madman’s World, a biographical horror about Houston serial killer Dean Corll.
We at Cinema Blend send our thoughts and condolences to Marilyn Burns’ family and friends in their time of grief.