Zelda Rubinstein Dies at 76, Zelda Rubinstein Dead at 76. Zelda Rubinstein, Clairvoyant in ‘Poltergeist,’ Dies at 76
The cause was complications of a heart attack she had two months ago, her agent, Eric Stevens, said. No immediate family members survive.
Released in 1982, “Poltergeist” featured a brief bravura turn by Ms. Rubinstein as Tangina, the clairvoyant summoned to scour a suburban home of spirits. “This house is clean!” Tangina memorably declared after attempting the job. The Washington Post called her performance one of the best by a film actress that year.
Ms. Rubinstein reprised the role of Tangina in “Poltergeist II” (1986) and “Poltergeist III” (1988).
A medical lab technician who became an actress in her late 40s, Ms. Rubinstein made her film debut in 1981 in the comedy “Under the Rainbow.” Her other films include “Frances” (1982), “Sixteen Candles” (1984), “Teen Witch” (1989) and “Sinbad: The Battle of the Dark Knights” (1998). On television, she had a recurring role as the sheriff’s dispatcher Ginny Weedon in the CBS series “Picket Fences.”
Ms. Rubinstein was also known for her public advocacy of both AIDS education and the rights of little people, the term she preferred. In 1981, she helped found the Michael Dunn Memorial Repertory Theater, whose tallest actor was 4 foot 6. Mr. Dunn, who died in 1973, was a dwarf actor known for the film “Ship of Fools” (1965).
Zelda Rubinstein was born in Pittsburgh on May 28, 1933; she was, she told The Hartford Courant in 2000, “the only one different in appearance” in her family. After studying at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of California, Berkeley, she became a technician in a blood bank.
At 47, Ms. Rubinstein abruptly decided to change careers, as she explained in the Courant interview.
“I had no idea what I would do next, but I knew it would involve advocacy for those people who were in danger of being disenfranchised,” she said. “I wanted a platform to be visible as a person who is different, as a representative of several varieties of differences. This is the most effective way for me to carry a message saying, ‘Yes you can.’ I took a look at these shoulders in the mirror and they’re pretty big. They can carry a lot of Sturm und Drang on them.”