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'Texas Chain Saw Massacre' Star Marilyn Burns Dies

A sad farewell to Texas' original scream queen

By Richard Whittaker, 11:05AM, Wed. Aug. 6

Farewell, Marilyn Burns. 1950-2014
Farewell, Marilyn Burns. 1950-2014

One of horror cinema's great lights has gone out. Marilyn Burns, who played Sally Hardesty, the defining last girl in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, has died at age 65.

Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, and raised in Los Angeles, she first moved to Texas when she was 5. Like most of the Chain Saw crew, she was a Longhorn, class of '71. For many, it was her performance as Hardesty – raw, screaming, terrified – that made the movie so impactful and terrifying. Enduring a legendarily brutal shoot, with that single role she became part of horror cinema royalty.

However, that was far from her only performance. She followed up her role as the ultimate victim with a much darker role, appearing in Helter Skelter as Linda Kasabian, a member of the Manson Family who became a key witness for the prosecution in the Tate-LaBianca murder trial. After that, she came back to work with several Chain Saw alums, including director Tobe Hooper on Eaten Alive, and Ed Neal (the infamous razor-wielding hitch hiker) on Future-Kill.

Burns had mostly eschewed the screen after that role, instead concentrating on theatre in her adopted home of Houston. However, she had recently made somewhat of a return to the horror genre, with cameos in Butcher Boys and Texas Chainsaw 3D, both produced by the original Saw writer Kim Henkel. Most recently, she had joined the cast of In a Madman's World with Houston-based director Josh Vargas, based on the true-life crimes of South Texas serial killer Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. In a Facebook post, Vargas wrote, "Marilyn was a very special lady. Tough as freaking nails! She was also one of the funniest people I knew. During many-a multi-hour phone conversations she would leave me in stitches!"

For a woman most famous for dealing with the darkest parts of life, Burns was famously sweet-natured. Vargas continued, "Her kindness was also infectious. I remember her introducing my son to her house cat and always telling me 'Go spend some time with that kiddo of yours!'"

Unlike many actresses who become synonymous with a single role early in their career, she relished interacting with fans, and was scheduled to appear in Austin this October at the Housecore Horror Film Festival as part of the Chain Saw 40th anniversary reunion. Festival co-organizer Corey Mitchell called the news "horrible. Such a sweet and funny lady. We're all crushed here."

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