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The heartwarming reason why Louise Fletcher accepted her Oscar in sign language 46 years ago

Fletcher, a child of deaf parents, paid tribute to them in her acceptance speech by using sign language to thank them.

The heartwarming reason why Louise Fletcher accepted her Oscar in sign language 46 years ago
Cover Image Source: Actress Louise Fletcher attends the premiere reception for Showtime's "Shameless" Season 2 at Haus Los Angeles on January 5, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

Louise Fletcher, who won an Oscar for her unforgettable role as Nurse Ratched in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," died at the age of 88 at her home in the south of France on Friday, reports Deadline. The late actress gave Hollywood one of its greatest all-time villains through her incredible portrayal of the character and one of Oscar's most memorable moments when she accepted the Academy Award in 1976 for her work on the film. Fletcher, a child of deaf parents, paid tribute to them in her acceptance speech by using sign language to thank them for the invaluable lesson they taught her.


"I wanted to say thank you for teaching me to have a dream," she said on stage, with finger making a curling motion next to her head for the word dream. "You are seeing my dream come true." Speaking to The Wrap days before the 2021 Oscar ceremony, Fletcher recalled her memories of that night in 1976. "I don't know how so many years could go by so fast," she said. "It was 45 years ago and I wasn't too young when I made the movie. Well, I mean, I was 41, and that seemed old to me back then. Which is a funny thing to say now that I'm 86."


Walking on stage to accept the Oscar for her role, Fletcher presented a completely different woman from the dour, disapproving persona she'd adopted for her character. "I've loved being hated by you," she told the audience in her first remarks. The actress revealed that Jerry Bick—her husband at the time—helped her come up with the next part of her speech. "Before the ceremony, I had said to him, 'If somehow I won, I'd never be able to stop crying.' So he said, 'Say something funny then.' He was a very funny guy and he came up with the line to praise my colleagues on the film: 'You made being in a mental institution like being in a mental institution.' The audience laughed, which was reassuring,'" Fletcher shared.


However, the star's tone immediately changed as she added, "If you'll excuse me," and spoke to the world in her first language, American Sign Language. Explaining her motivation behind this grand gesture for her parents, Fletcher said in the interview last year: "We had the most amazing childhood, my brother and sisters and I. My parents would tell us, 'You can do anything you want with your life, whatever you choose is fine with us.' I didn't fully realize it until later how rare that is." She revealed that in the weeks leading up to the 1976 Academy Awards, she knew she had to pay tribute to her parents.


"If I got the chance, I would have to thank them. I was compelled to thank them. I don't know how to impress on you what it meant to be their child. It was such a beautiful, rich childhood for all of us. I needed my parents to know that they were the reason that I succeeded," Fletcher explained. No one other than her sister Georgianna knew she intended to sign a portion her speech. "She had studied deaf education," Fletcher said. "And at that time there was a great debate about sign language, because ASL is more symbolic than verbatim spoken English. You mainly use the nouns and verbs in a sentence, but as a result a lot of deaf people would have a full education but they would lack the ability to write proper English."


Her sister told her that she should use a version of ASL that would be understood as perfect English, Fletcher shared. "So instead of saying, 'I want thank mother father,' she coached me on how to sign all the little words in between. There were no camera phones back then, so it took awhile for her to explain everything to me," she recalled. "The local ABC affiliate went to [her parents'] house with a camera crew, and of course my parents just opened the door and let them to come in. So I got to see a video of them watching me on television when I won. I saw their reaction in the moment, which was such a wonderful thing. They were so moved and so proud."


The fact that people still recall her speech, all these years later, was very touching, Fletcher admitted. "I didn't actually think I would get a chance (to be onstage)," she said, "but I knew I wanted do it the right way if I did win. It was actually very simple. I wanted my parents to know they gave me the kind of love that every child should have. The luckiest day of my life was when I was born as their daughter."

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