Sad news being reported by The Boston Herald and many other news outlets today. Zelda Rubinstein, the 4-foot, 3-inch tall actress who played the spirit-fighting psychic in 1982’s Poltergeist has passed away at the age of 76.
After suffering a heart attack, she had been in a hospital for two full months with multiple illnesses before recently being taken off of life support. Reports earlier this month that she was near-death were met with contrary reports that she was actually getting better and that rumors of her demise were premature. But as hard as she appears to have fought, she has now sadly lost that battle.
Rubinstein didn’t even begin acting until she was in her 40s when she left her long run as a lab technician to pursue the more creative arts. Her first movie role was in a 1981 film called Under the Rainbow with Chevy Chase, which told the story of a hotel in 1938 that overbooks with all sorts of characters, including the cast of The Wizard of Oz. Rubinstein found it appalling that people of small stature were used as punchlines and became an activist for them as legit and talented actors. It was not long after that that she showed up in the Tobe Hooper directed and Steven Spielberg produced horror classic, Poltergeist. Her performance, and her distinguishable voice, made her one of the most memorable parts of the film.
Her performance in Poltergeist made her a perfect fit for other horror-related roles, and she went on to do multiple sequels, movies like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, and shows like Tales from the Crypt and The Scariest Places on Earth, where she was the perfect narrator.
Even though she was indeed perfect for roles like this, horror was nowhere near all she did. Zelda had a big 44-episode run on Picket Fences, appeared in movies like Sixteen Candles, Teen Witches, and Southland Tales. She even showed up in a lot of cartoons and kids shows like Darkwing Duck and Hey Arnold!.
Although she did so many different types of roles and stood strong for the smaller people and their place in cinema, she of course will always Tangina, and I can happily say that that role will remain for all time.
Zelda Rubinstein 1933 — 2010