Margot Kidder, 1948–2017
The Superman star who battled bipolar disorder
When Margot Kidder was cast as Lois Lane in 1978’s big-budget Superman, she didn’t have high hopes for the movie. The comic strip had been adapted for radio and TV decades earlier, but the all-American Man of Steel seemed like a relic in the cynical post-Watergate era. “I thought it was going to be a turkey,” Kidder said. What saved the film was the screwball chemistry between its two leads. Kidder played Daily Planet reporter Lane as a sassy go-getter, and Christopher Reeve gave a charming deadpan performance as her nerdy colleague Clark Kent and his superhero alter ego. The film was a box office smash, as were two of its sequels. But Kidder’s career would be derailed by her high-profile struggle with bipolar disorder—after a 1996 breakdown, she was found disheveled and disoriented in a stranger’s backyard outside Los Angeles. “If you’re gonna fall apart,” the actress would later joke, “do it in your own bedroom.”
Kidder was born in Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, to a teacher mother and mining engineer father, said TheGuardian.com. “She suffered emotional problems as a teenager” and made her first suicide attempt at 14 after being dumped by a boyfriend. Kidder started acting while at boarding school in Toronto and made her movie debut as a prostitute in the 1969 comic romp Gaily, Gaily. The next year she starred opposite Gene Wilder in the comedy Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx, and then became “a self-described ‘scream queen,’” said The Washington Post. Her “suggestion of cunning and sensuality” elevated Brian de Palma’s 1972 horror film Sisters and the 1974 sorority-house slasher Black Christmas.
Superman and its three sequels made Kidder a household name, but it was a success she never repeated, said The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). She labored in “uninspiring TV films and flops” while going through several marriages—the second of which lasted only six days—“and struggling with a drinking problem.” Kidder spiraled after a 1990 car crash left her with a spinal injury and piles of debt, and six years later she suffered her public breakdown. She credited natural treatments with helping her recover and resumed work, taking small parts in movies and TV shows, including the Superman spin-off Smallville. “I guess,” she said, “I came to terms with my demons.”