Actress Marilyn Burns, best known to horror fans as the heroine of the original 1974 horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has been found dead at her home in Houston, TX, according to TMZ. She was 65 years old.
The cause of death has yet to be determined, but it has been reported that Burns was found by a family member.
One of the original scream queens, Burns’ gutsy performance as Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the film’s unsung virtues. The actress managed to convey genuine terror in its most harrowing scenes (though the squalid, brutal filming conditions probably played a big hand in that) and her lungs got the kind of workout that few horror heroines could match at their best moments. Chainsaw‘s shocking impact and box office success failed to catapult Burns to film stardom, but she still find roles regularly throughout the four decades that followed.
In 1976, she reunited with Chainsaw director Tobe Hooper for the sleazy grindhouse horror flick Eaten Alive, where once again she was given the opportunity to put her Olympic-level screaming skills to the ultimate test. She also appeared in cameo roles in the occasional Chainsaw sequel including 1994’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (a.k.a. The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and last year’s Texas Chainsaw 3D. Burns played the role of Linda Kasabian in the acclaimed 1976 made-for-television feature Helter Skelter about the Charles Manson murders and the trial of Manson and his deranged followers. Most of her filmography consists of parts in little-known independent genre movies, such as Kiss Daddy Goodbye and the entertainingly goofy Future-Kill.
In her later years, Burns became a popular fixture on the horror convention circuit and made a memorable appearance in the 2000 documentary Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth. Fans of her films who were fortunate enough to meet Burns during her lifetime always came away feeling blessed at having done so. It’s sad that she would pass away as her greatest achievement as an actress celebrates its 40th anniversary, but few of the most elaborate visual effects ever conceived and executed could barely come close to toppling the haunting image of Burns’ beautiful eyes widened in overwhelming fright, her delicate voice stretched to its breaking limit in the hope that someone will her shrieking pleas for help and mercy. That has stuck with me since I first saw Chainsaw seventeen years ago and it will remain will me and many others for the rest of our lives.