Kathryn Reed Altman, Widow of Filmmaker Robert Altman, Dies at 91

Kathryn Reed Altman GETTY  - S 2016
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The former showgirl and Hollywood extra continued her husband’s legacy after his death in 2006.

Kathryn Reed Altman, the widow of director Robert Altman who continued the famed filmmaker’s legacy through books, appearances and film projects, has died. She was 91.

Altman died Wednesday of a heart attack at her home in Santa Monica, publicist Mike Kaplan announced. Her last public appearance came just six days earlier at a 35th anniversary showing of her husband’s 1971 classic McCabe & Mrs. Miller.

Actor Keith Carradine, who starred in the film and attended the event, described her “as sharp as ever.”

A former showgirl with the musical troupe the Earl Carroll Vanities, she met Altman in 1959 when she was working as an extra on an episode of the syndicated TV show Whirlybirds that he was directing. They married that year and were together — with Kathryn serving as a welcoming presence on her husband's movie sets — until his death in 2006 at age 81.

Altman was nominated for seven Academy Awards and received an honorary Oscar in 2006 “for a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike.”

For the past decade, his widow attended major Altman retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, the UCLA Film & Television Archive and at festivals throughout the world.


In 2014, she and critic Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan published a scrapbook memoir titled Altman and served as the narrative thread in a feature-length documentary of the same name directed by Ron Mann.

“Our hearts are heavy to hear of Kathryn’s passing,” senior editor Eric Klopfer of Abrams, her publisher, said in a statement. “We were thankful to have worked with and known her. She was a dynamo, a spitfire, a true original — and an essential figure in the history of American cinema — but most important, a warm, witty and overflowingly generous and radiant person who enjoyed life to the very end.”

She also was the guiding force behind the establishment of the Robert Altman Collection at the University of Michigan’s Special Collections Library, also home to the Orson Welles Collection.

More than 800 feet of material has been assembled, with plans for a touring exhibit. Included in the collection is The Kathryn Reed Story, a short film Altman made as a surprise birthday gift to his wife.

“While Kathryn Altman’s name does not appear in the credits of any of her husband’s films, the Altman collection is as much a tribute to her as it is to Bob himself,” Phillip Hallman, film studies field librarian at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. “Her presence led directly to her stewardship of his legacy, which she worked on tirelessly until the end.”

Born June 2, 1924, in Glendale, Calif., Altman joined the Earl Carroll troupe shortly after graduating from Hollywood High School. She appeared in many films as an extra.

Survivors include her children Konni, Robert and Matthew; stepchildren Christine, Michael and Stephen; grandchildren Dana, Jonathan, Christopher, Reed, Parker, Christian, Alison, Jade, Cora, Charity, Wesley and Signe; and nine great-grandchildren.

Arrangements are pending.