Eileen Brennan, the veteran actress perhaps best known for her role as the goodhearted Texas waitress in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, has died. She was 80. Brennan also received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress playing tough drill captain Doreen Lewis opposite Goldie Hawn in the fish-out-of-water comedy Private Benjamin (1980). She reprised the role in the CBS series that starred Lorna Patterson in the title role as won an Emmy Award, one of her seven career nominations.Brennan also memorably appeared as brothel madam Billie, a confidant of con man Paul Newman, in the Oscar best-picture winner The Sting (1973); as Peter Falk’s long-suffering secretary Tess in the Agatha Christie classic spoof Murder by Death (1976), written by Neil Simon; and as Mrs. Peacock in Clue (1985). She often played world-weary, sympathetic characters yet demonstrated a real comic flair throughout her career.
Her other films include three more for Bogdanovich: Daisy Miller (1974), At Long Last Love (1975) and Texasville (1990); Simon’s Cheap Detective (1978), the follow-up to Murder by Death; the road movie Scarecrow (1973), opposite Al Pacino and Gene Hackman; The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (1988); Stella (1990) with Bette Midler; FM (1978); Jeepers Creepers (2001); and Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005).
She made her return with a role in the ABC comedy Off the Rack in January 1984, still without feeling on the left side of her face and a steel plate in her left leg, then a few months later entered the Betty Ford Center for six weeks of treatment.
In Bogdanovich’s black-and-white 1971 classic The Last Picture Show, Brennan plays Genevieve, a waitress working in a cafe in a dusty Texas town who lends an ear to Timothy Bottoms. She inherits the place when owner Sam (Oscar winner Ben Johnson) dies.
Bogdanovich, who earned an Oscar nomination for the film, had seen Brennan on an off-Broadway production in Little Mary Sunshine in the 1960s and immediately hired her for the drama — marking the start of a great actress-director relationship.
Brennan appeared in the original 1964 production of the musical Hello, Dolly! as Irene Molloy opposite Carol Channing. She earned her other Emmy noms for guest-starring stints on Taxi, Newhart, thirtysomething and Will & Grace, the latter as a chain-smoking acting coach and former Hollywood star. She was a regular on such series as 13 Queens Boulevard, A New Kind of Family, Blossom and The All-New Dennis the Menace.
Brennan, an Irish-American, was the daughter of Regina “Jeanne” Menehan, a silent film actress. Brennan was married to British-born poet-photographer David Lampson; from 1968 until their divorce in 1975.
Survivors include her sons Sam and Patrick (an actor in Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2), daughter-in-law Jessica, sister Kate and grandchildren Liam and Maggie.