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Cornelia Frances, whose sharp-tongued villainous characters on Australian TV made her a household and international name, has died. She was 77.
Frances died Monday night in Sydney after a battle with bladder cancer, her son Lawrence Eastland told the ABC. She was surrounded by family and friends. Earlier in the week, Eastland had posted an Instagram photo of his mother resting. “She is so peaceful, soft and serene. I truly love this woman,” he wrote.
From the late 1970s, Frances was a mainstay on Australian television. With her strong features and presence, she gained immediate recognition as Sister Grace Scott on the soap The Young Doctors, set at the fictional Albert Memorial Hospital.
“She could get cranky, but she got people better because she was very stern and she knew exactly what she was doing, and she ran her staff with a rod of iron. People pulled through,” Frances said of her character at a 2007 reunion of the show’s cast. The location was actually a real hospital that Frances found herself in 40 years later, as a patient receiving cancer treatment.
In the early ’80s, she starred in the family drama Sons and Daughters as Barbara Armstrong, later marrying Brian Blain’s character Gordon. Younger audiences immediately recognize her as the villainous Morag Bellingham, the sister of mainstay Alf Stewart (Ray Meagher) on the long-running and globally watched soap Home and Away, a role she played on and off for 29 years.
“I’ve been very lucky and I really thank all the producers who hired me, because it ain’t easy to put a bitch on television,” she told Channel 9 earlier this year about the role of Morag.
In 2001, Frances’ star in Australia rose even further after she was perfectly cast as the strict, no-nonsense, acerbic host of the Australian version of The Weakest Link game show.
Off-screen she was unlike her television persona, yet the public was often unable to reconcile the two. “[The public] defy me to smile; they don’t think I can. They still run away in supermarkets when they see me coming,” she told Channel 9.
Frances was born in Lancashire, England, on April 7 1941. Her initial screen appearances were bit-part roles in British films, most notably a few speaking lines in her uncle Michael Powell’s thriller Peeping Tom (1960) and his military drama The Queen’s Guards (1961).
Subsequent movie roles included the film version of the adult-themed series The Box (1975), the Aussie drama The Man From Snowy River II (1988) and the children’s series Magic Mountain (1997–98).
She was a longtime ambassador for The Orangutan Project, whose key mission includes protecting endangered wild orangutan species.
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