Susan Anspach, 'Five Easy Pieces' and 'Play It Again, Sam' Actress, Dies at 75

Susan Anspach, best known for her roles in 1970s movies like Five Easy Pieces and Play It Again, Sam, died on Monday, April 2. She was 75.

susan-anspach-jack-nicholson-five-easy-pieces_getty-Bettmann : Contributor
(Photo: Bettmann / Contributor, Getty)

Anspach's son Caleb Goddard told The New York Times that Anspach died of coronary failure at her home in Los Angeles.

After beginning her career in New York, which included an off-Broadway production of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge in 1965, the Queens native moved to Hollywood and had a breakthrough role in 1970's Five Easy Pieces opposite Jack Nicholson — with whom she later had legal personal disputes.

In 1972, she played Woody Allen's ex-wife in Play It Again, Sam, delivering some of comedy's best lines:

“You’re a dreamer. You’re awkward. You’re clumsy. They can see how desperate you are. You know this. You said it yourself. Oh, face it, Allan. You may be very sweet, but you’re not sexy.”

A year after that, Anspach starred in Paul Mazursky's Blume in Love across from Kris Kristofferson.

New York Times critic Vincent Canby praised Anspach as "one of America's most daring and talented actresses...who has yet to land a film role that shows her off to fun advantage."

Anspach's career slowed down after her last major film role in 1978's Montenegro; she worked periodically as a singer and also taught acting while landing occasional stage and TV roles, but she increasingly relied on Nicholson for financial support.

In Five Easy Pieces, Nicholson's musician character and Anspach's pianist character had a steamy love scene — which they apparently reenacted off the screen as well. Anspach later said that Nicholson was the father of her son, Goddard, who was born in 1970.

In a 1994 Vanity Fair profile, Nicholson said he had one son, Raymond (with Rebecca Broussard), which promoted Anspach to write the magazine. "Our son, Caleb, is Jack's older son and second oldest child," she wrote.

In 1996, she told PEOPLE that he was "trying to ruin me absolutely" and that she had received a letter from his business manager asking her to repay more than $600,000 in loans or risk losing her house, on which Nicholson held the mortgage.

Anspach filed for bankruptcy and sued Nicholson for $1 million. The dispute was settled out of court, and Anspach reportedly kept her home.

Anspach was married to Lost in Space star Mark Goddard, who adopted her son Caleb and daughter Catherine (who Anspach said was fathered by her Hair co-star Steve Curry) from 1970 to 1978 and to musician Sherwood Ball from 1982 to 1988.

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She is survived by Caleb, Catherine and three grandchildren.

She was active in social justice causes, having marched with farmworkers' rights activist Cesar Chavez, traveled with congressional delegations to Central America and even demonstrated against apartheid in South Africa.