Diane Ladd landed her breakthrough role in the 1974 film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, for which she earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The film was turned into a TV show, Alice, and Ladd won a Golden Globe Award for her work. Other notable TV credits include Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Grace Under Fire and Touched by an Angel—all of which earned her Emmy nods.
Diane Ladd was born Rose Diane Ladnier on November 29, 1942, in Laurel, Mississippi. Her father, Paul Ladnier, was a veterinarian and traveling salesman who developed and sold his own poultry remedies throughout the South. Ladd describes her childhood self as "just a pigtailed girl with a curious nature and a wonderfully crazy Southern family." Ladd was an only child but grew up surrounded by her many cousins, including the playwright Tennessee Williams. As a kid, Ladd did not dream of becoming an actress. Instead, she remembers, "I wanted to be a district attorney and solve hidden problems or maybe even be a leper-colony missionary and save people." However, Ladd recalled one Sunday morning at church when she saw a flash of light before her eyes and impulsively asked God to let her become an actress. When she told her father about her experience, he responded, "You're a drama queen, all right."
Ladd fenced, sang in the choir, and acted in several plays while attending high school in Mississippi. After graduating at the age of 16, she turned down a scholarship to Louisiana State University and moved to New Orleans to pursue work in acting and to attend finishing school, which, she later joked "almost finished me!"
While performing at the Gallery Circle Theater in New Orleans, Ladd was spotted by the actor John Carradine, who hired her to perform in his San Francisco production of Tobacco Road. Only 17 years old, Ladd next moved to New York City where she landed a gig as a "Copa girl" in the chorus at the famed Copacabana night club. Ladd then made her New York acting debut in an off-Broadway production of her cousin Tennessee Williams' play, Orpheus Descending. After nearly a decade acting in off-Broadway productions such as The Fantastics, Love Letters and Hamlet, Ladd debuted on Broadway in the 1968 play Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights.
While developing her stage career in the 1960s, Ladd also played guest roles on various TV shows and minor roles in feature films. She landed her breakthrough role in the 1974 film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Ladd's portrayal of Flo, the wisecracking waitress, earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Two years later, Ladd returned to the stage in the play Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander (part of Preston Jones' A Texas Trilogy). After a successful debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the show moved to Broadway and received rave reviews. Later in 1976, CBS decided to convert Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore into a TV series called Alice. On the show, famously set in Mel's Diner, Ladd depicted the charming waitress Belle Dupree and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Television Series.
Finally a well-established actress on the Broadway stage, on television and in feature films, Ladd went on to a long and distinguished acting career. Her notable television credits include Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993), Grace Under Fire (1994), and Touched by an Angel (1997)—all three of which earned her Emmy Award nominations. Ladd has also turned in numerous acclaimed performances in feature films. She earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Wild at Heart (1990) and made film history with the 1991 film Rambling Rose, for which both Ladd and her daughter, actress Laura Dern, were nominated for Academy Awards (Ladd for Best Supporting Actress and Dern for Best Actress). Ladd's other notable films include Primary Colors (1998) and 28 Days (2000).
Besides her acting career, Diane Ladd has also pursued a lesser-known career as a medical counselor, healer, and proponent of alternative medicine. Ladd says that for several decades she lived a secret second life in addition to her public life as an actress. "For 30 years, which I never talked about in Hollywood, I actually worked with doctors lecturing and doing some medical intuitive counseling both in a medical setting and for the community at large." In 2007, Ladd went public with her health work, publishing Spiraling Through the School of Life: A Mental, Physical, and Spiritual Discovery. She also serves on the Board of Advisors for The National Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine.
Ladd married acclaimed actor Bruce Dern in 1960, when she was only 18. Ladd gave birth to her first daughter, Diane, in 1961, but the child drowned in a tragic swimming accident when only 18 months old. In 1967, the couple had a second daughter, Laura Dern, who has followed in her mother's footsteps as a popular and acclaimed actress. Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern divorced in 1969, and she married William Shea Jr. in 1973, but after four years that marriage also ended in divorce. In 1998, Ladd married her third husband, Robert Charles Hunter, and they have since formed a production company named Exxcell Entertainment.
While Ladd continues to act in feature films and on television, she also travels the country offering motivational speeches and personal consultations on health, healing, and alternative medicine. She says, "If I can help one person in this world, then it's enough, and I've done my job." Ladd has a personal motto, inspired by her Southern roots, that she likes to share in her speeches and consultations: "Have a little faith, kick a little dirt."
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