'A Christmas Story' Mom Melinda Dillon Was Among the Stars We Lost in 2023

A bittersweet look back at the celebrated actress and Christmas staple.

Melinda Dillon, likely known best as Ralphie's mom in A Christmas Story and her Oscar-nominated roles in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Absence of Malice, has died. Dillon's family confirmed her death on Jan. 9, closing her life at 83.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Dillon started her career with some immediate awards consideration, earning nominations from the Tony Awards and Theatre World award in 1963. Her debut came as part of the original production of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

She would later establish a growing screen career throughout the 70s and 80s, including the Hal Ashby biopic on Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory, where she played Guthrie's wife opposite David Carradine. She later appeared in George Roy Hill's Slap Shot featuring Paul Newman, and as John Lithgow's wife in Harry and the Hendersons. She would also later play another wife in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia in 1999.

But for many viewers, her more memorable roles are Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and her annual appearance as Ralphie's mom in A Christmas Story. In Close Encounters, Dillon plays Jillian Guiler, a single mother whose 3-year-old son is taken by aliens. Her time opposite star Richard Dreyfuss was a last-minute addition on the recommendation of Ashby to Spielberg, with the latter hiring just days before shooting.

If audiences aren't as familiar with Spielberg's alien epic, they've certainly enjoyed Dillon as Ralphie and Randy's mother in A Christmas Story. The Hollywood Reporter cites a 2016 piece by Sam Kashner that illustrates why Dillon is an essential piece of the holiday classic.

"Dillon has a sweetly comedic presence that threatens to dissolve into creative anarchy. She's a vigilant mom but is still a child at heart, apparent when she encourages her youngest, Randy, a fussy eater, to pretend he's a pig at a trough," Kashner writes. "Randy really gets into it, snorting and plunging his face into his meat loaf and mashed potatoes, while he and his mom dissolve into fits of laughter."

Beyond these iconic roles, Dillon has a long Broadway resume including You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running in 1967 and Paul Sills' Story Theatre in 1970 which reunited her with some of her Second City contemporaries. She also appeared in The Muppet Movie, To Wong Food, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, and How to Make an American Quilt. Dillon also guest starred on TV series like The Jeffersons, Picket Fences, and Heartland.