Marilyn Eastman, the actress best known for her role as Helen Cooper in Night of the Living Dead, has passed away. She died peacefully in her sleep in Tampa, Florida on Sunday night. She was 87 years old.
Marilyn Eastman’s son, John Eastman, broke the news in a Facebook post, writing, “Marilyn was a Stage, Television and Radio performer as well as a writer and producer. More importantly, she was a hard working single mother who raised my brother and I on her own. I cannot overstate how much she enjoyed the affection and attention shown to her by countless NOLD fans, and up until several weeks ago, was planning personal appearances.”
Born in Davenport, Iowa on December 17th, 1933, Eastman was driven in life by a need to explore and create. As such, she moved to Pittsburgh in the early ’60s where she eventually joined Karl Hardman at Hardman Associates. The two became business and life partners until Karl’s passing in 2007. Together, they had two children, five grandchildren, and eight great grandchildren.
Eastman was the vice president and creative director of Hardman Associates when George A. Romero approached the industrial film production company about creating horror movies. Romero signed on as the director-screenwriter, John A. Russo joined as another screenwriter, and Russell Streiner hopped aboard as a producer alongside Hardman Associates for what would soon become Ten Productions.
“The investors cobbled together $6,000 to start production on Night of the Flesh Eaters, and the grainy, black-and-white film quickly caught on in midnight screenings around the country in 1968,” explains The Hollywood Reporter. “However, most of the profits eluded the backers when the distributor left the copyright bug off when it was retitled Night of the Living Dead.”
Onscreen, Eastman portrayed two key roles in Night of the Living Dead: Helen Cooper, the woman who meets her fateful end in the cramped basement of a Pennsylvania farmhouse, and a bug-eating zombie with flesh peeling off her face. Considering she lent a hand in the film’s makeup, prop, and sound departments, it was only right that Eastman got to show off her acting skills as well as her special effects work in the horror classic.
In addition to her acting credits in Night of the Living Dead, Eastman starred in Russo’s 1996 film Santa Claws.
Below, find a handful of tributes from longtime admirers of Eastman’s work.
It is with great sadness that we can confirm the passing of Marilyn Eastman on 8/22/21. Please join us in wishing her family peace at this painful time.
Godspeed, Marilyn. Give our love to Karl. 💔 pic.twitter.com/qBidxsEIW3
— The George A. Romero Foundation (@theGARFofficial) August 23, 2021
We’re sad to hear of the passing of Marilyn Eastman, who not only played Helen Cooper in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD but, as a founding member of Image Ten, helped with prop and makeup duties, and even played one of the film’s memorable zombies. RIP. pic.twitter.com/avBtBmr9PF
— FANGORIA (@FANGORIA) August 23, 2021
RIP Marilyn Eastman. 😞🙏🖤🖤 pic.twitter.com/8grvq0bhlc
— Diana “Darcy the Mail Girl” Prince (@kinky_horror) August 23, 2021
#RIP Marilyn Eastman; she was one of the folks who did it all (financing, acting, makeup, props, screenwriting, sound, etc.) to get George A. Romero's zombie classic 'Night of the Living Dead' to the big screen. https://t.co/7t3YX1zXdy
— Mike Barnes (@MikeBarnes4) August 23, 2021