With her lusty laugh and penetrating gaze, Joanna Cassidy manifested an innate intelligence that allowed her to avoid the starlet trap of playing bimbos and girlfriends. Equally adept at comedy, drama and the physical rigors of action-adventure, the titian-haired ex-model scored an early starring role opposite George C. Scott in "The Bank Shot" (1974) but her résumé-building credits were largely in television. Rebounding from the cancellation of her weekly air rescue series "240-Robert" (ABC, 1979-1981), Cassidy joined the cast of Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" (1982), as an ass-kicking replicant who nearly makes mincemeat of star Harrison Ford. Elevated to the status of leading lady, she was paired with Nick Nolte and Gene Hackman for "Under Fire" (1983), an account of war correspondents swept up in the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution, and with Dabney Coleman for the critically-acclaimed but short-lived NBC sitcom "Buffalo Bill" (1983-84), which netted her a Golden Globe. Key roles in "The Fourth Protocol" (1987), "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (1989) and "A Vampire in Brooklyn" (1996) kept the actress in the public eye as she matured to more mature parts, most notably as the sexually adventurous widow Margaret Chenowith on HBO's groundbreaking "Six Feet Under" (2001-04). Cassidy showed no inclination to slow down, keeping busy playing a panoply of lusty professional women and domineering mother types on "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), "HawthoRNe" (TNT, 2009-11) and "Body of Proof" (ABC, 2011-13) while enjoying a hard-won reputation as one of Hollywood's most beloved character actresses.
Joanna Virginia Caskey was born in Camden, NJ on Aug. 2, 1945. A rambunctious, athletic student at Haddonfield Memorial High School, Cassidy played on the field hockey, basketball and baseball teams while enjoying playing practical jokes on her classmates and mixing with the rowdy crowd. Channeling her energies into painting and sculpture, she enrolled as an art major at Syracuse University following her high school graduation. Married in 1964 to a pre-med student, Cassidy relocated with her new husband to San Francisco, CA. While picking up jobs as a model, she made her feature film debut with a walk-on role in Peter Yates' classic "Bullit" (1968) starring Steve McQueen. She also made brief appearances in such Bay Area productions as Tom Gries' "Fools" (1970), starring Jason Robards, and Stuart Rosenberg's "The Laughing Policeman" (1973), in which she shared a dialogue scene with star Bruce Dern and exhibited a lusty and slightly mocking laugh that would become a career trademark.
Divorced from her psychiatrist husband in 1974, Cassidy packed up her life once more and headed for Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming a professional actress. Her first starring role was an unusual one, as a talking head in a widely-televised public service announcement from the United States Forest Service. Speaking in a low, seductive tone, her face framed by her tousled red hair, Cassidy cautioned viewers about the dangers of careless fires in the great outdoors, smiling slyly at the last minute before tearing from her face a rubber mask and revealing herself to be none other than USFS mascot Smokey the Bear. Her biggest break early in her career came with her casting by director Gower Champion in "The Bank Shot" (1974), opposite George C. Scott, but the comic caper's dismal critical and box office reception did her burgeoning career no lasting good.
Cassidy next traveled to Italy to star in Massimo Dallamano's "The Night Child" (1975), patterned heavily after William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" (1973) and concerning a cursed medallion that afflicts an impressionable young girl. Playing the concerned American producer of the child's British filmmaker father, Cassidy obliged director Dallamano by disrobing for a pair of revealing lovemaking scenes with co-star Richard Johnson. Back in the States, Cassidy was given a key role in "The Stepford Wives" (1975), Bryan Forbes' adaptation of the novel by Ira Levin, but was replaced after two weeks by Paula Prentiss. She also won the title role in the pilot film for "The New Adventures of Wonder Woman" (1975), but director Jack Arnold insisted that the role be given instead to Lynda Carter, who carried the part through to the eventual weekly series. Despite these career disappointments, Cassidy soldiered on with small roles in the bodybuilding comedy "Stay Hungry" (1976), starring Jeff Bridges, Sally Field and muscleman émigré Arnold Schwarzenegger, and in Robert Benton's latter day Los Angeles noir "The Late Show" (1977).
Cassidy had more screen time in Mark Lester's low budget whodunit "Stunts" (1977), as the widow of one of a string of slain stuntmen, but moving forward her biggest gains were on the small screen. A member of the in-house repertory of the primetime comedy revue "Shields and Yarnell" (CBS, 1977-78), Cassidy also starred on the short-lived roller derby sitcom "The Roller Girls" (NBC, 1978) and became a certified SCUBA diver for her role as an air rescue pilot in "240-Robert" (1979-1981), which ran for two limited seasons on ABC. In the revenge-fueled low budget actioner "The Glove" (1979), Cassidy appeared as a love interest for leading man John Saxon while keeping a straight face throughout Roger Vadim's risible erotic thriller "Night Games" (1980).
Despite being known primarily as a TV actress for her vivid guest appearances on such weekly series as "Charlie's Angels" (ABC, 1976-1981), "Dallas" (CBS, 1978-1991) and "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986), Cassidy won the role of her lifetime when she was cast as the snake-handling replicant Zhora in Ridley Scott's big-budget feature "Blade Runner" (1982), based on the dystopian science fiction classic by Philip K. Dick. So eager was Cassidy to play the role that she offered the use of her own boa constrictor, Lovely. Though the shoot was a difficult one, married by bad blood between director Scott, leading man Harrison Ford and Hollywood newcomer Sean Young, the credit changed the shape of Cassidy's career. Though she played an extended nude scene in the film, "Blade Runner" marked a break for the actress from her days as a Sexy Young Thing to years of purpose as a character actress of gravitas and range.
While continuing to pay rent with television work, Cassidy scored another important feature film role as the journalist love interest of both Nick Nolte and Gene Hackman in "Under Fire" (1983), Roger Spottiswoode's tense account of the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution. Though neglected by the major English-speaking film award-givers, Cassidy's performance did earn her the 1984 Sant Jordi Award from Spain for Best Foreign Actress. Equally adept at drama as well as comedy, Cassidy's seemingly unstructured but disarmingly disciplined acting style won her another shot at a weekly series when she was cast opposite Dabney Coleman on the NBC sitcom "Buffalo Bill" (1983-84). Focused on the daily mishaps of a niche market TV talk show, the series benefited from the spirited bickering of its stars. Cassidy took home a Golden Globe Award for her contributions and was nominated for a primetime Emmy, but much to the chagrin of TV critics everywhere, the series was axed by the network after its second season.
Given a bland love interest role in Harold Ramis' dismal "Club Paradise" (1986) opposite Robin Williams, Cassidy fared better as an icy Soviet hit woman in "The Fourth Protocol" (1987) and brought her trademark sass and sex appeal to a flesh-and-blood role opposite Bob Hoskins in Robert Zemeckis' largely animated "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (1989). She reteamed with Hackman for Andrew Davis' espionage thriller "The Package" (1989), as a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel who aids her Master Sergeant ex-husband in the hunt for political assassin Tommy Lee Jones. Cassidy again handled heavy ordnance as a small town sheriff in "The Tommyknockers" (1993), an ABC miniseries based on the best-selling novel by Stephen King, and as a New York Police Department captain in Wes Craven's comedic misfire "A Vampire in Brooklyn" (1996), starring Eddie Murphy.
As Cassidy matured, she began to transition from action woman roles to those of aggressive older professionals, with a sideline in lusty "cougars" still in possession of their feminine wiles. The actress perfected this type as the sexually incorrigible Margaret Chenowith on the HBO series "Six Feet Under" (2001-05). She also enjoyed semi-regular status in the second season of "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), bewitching series regular William Shatner into a spontaneous law office tryst, and as the mother-in-law of widowed chief nurse Jada Pinkett Smith on TNT's "HawthoRNe" (2009-11). In 2007, the 62-year-old Cassidy strapped herself back into her revealing Zhora costume for a digital retake of her famous "Blade Runner" death scene for director Ridley Scott, who had long been unhappy with his original use of an obvious stuntwoman. In 2011, she was back in mother hen mode as coroner Dana Delany's mom on the medical whodunit "Body of Proof" (ABC, 2011-13).
By Richard Harland Smith
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
First screen role, bit part in Peter Yates' "Bullitt"
Moved to Los Angeles with children; began modeling and acting
Screen acting debut in "The Laughing Policeman"
TV debut as a regular on "Shields and Yarnell" (CBS)
Featured in short-lived "The Rollergirls" (NBC)
Co-starred on the ABC drama series "240 Robert"
Had prominent supporting role in Ridley Scott's sci-fi thriller "Blade Runner"
Appeared in short-lived comedy series "The Family Tree" (NBC)
Cast opposite Dabney Coleman in the superior sitcom "Buffalo Bill" (NBC)
Was featured in the ABC miniseries "Hollywood Wives"
Had leading role of former CIA operative Elizabeth 'Foxire' Towne in the short-lived NBC adventure series "Codename: Foxfire"
Was female live-action lead in the feature "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"
Co-starred in HBO TV-movie "Barbarians at the Gate"
Returned to series TV as the title character's ex-wife in "Dudley", a CBS sitcom starring Dudley Moore that lasted for five episodes
Played leading role in the CBS series "Hotel Malibu"
Played recurring role of a judge on three episode story arc of "L.A. Law"
Cast as Margaret Chenowith, mother of Brenda and Billy Chenowith in the acclaimed HBO series "Six Feet Under"
Returned to regular series work in the ABC fall drama "Philly"
Earned an Emmy nomination for Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series for "Six Feet Under"
Guest stars as Beverly Bridge, wife of lawyer Danny Crane, on ABC's "Boston Legal"