By Ryan Gajewski, The Hollywood Reporter
Marlee Matlin was just 21 when she earned an Academy Award for starring opposite William Hurt in the 1986 drama Children of a Lesser God, becoming the first deaf person to win an Oscar and the youngest best actress recipient.
Marking her feature debut, the film focused on the relationship between a hearing speech teacher (Hurt) at a school for deaf children and a deaf custodian (Matlin) working there. For Matlin, the Oscar win was the culmination of a lifelong dream that began at age 8 when she started appearing in children’s theater productions for the International Center on Deafness and the Arts in Northbrook, Illinois. Henry Winkler, who dealt with undiagnosed dyslexia as a child, saw her in a play there and offered encouragement backstage.
“The win reinforced what Henry Winkler told me when I was 12, that I should never give up doing what I love, despite the critics and naysayers,” Matlin tells THR. She admits her trip to the podium was a blur, and she wasn’t sure what to believe when the category’s presenter, Hurt, whom she was dating at the time, called her name: “I remember thinking at first that he was kidding, but then I thought, ‘He can’t be kidding on national TV!’ “
Her film CODA, about the lone hearing member of a deaf family, nabbed this year’s SAG Award for best film ensemble and has three Oscar noms, including best picture and best supporting actor for Troy Kotsur, who could follow in Matlin’s footsteps as the second deaf performer to win.
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