Actress Zelda Rubinstein, best known for her role as a psychic "house cleaner" in Tobe Hooper's Poltergeistand its sequels, passed away Wednesday at the age of 76. Rubenstein also had a memorable role on TV's "Picket Fences" and appeared in films like Sixteen Candles, Teen Witch, Southland Tales, and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.
According to the LA Times, Rubinstein died from natural causes at Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Los Angeles. She had been suffering health issues since at least December, when she was reportedly taken off of life support.
The diminutive actress had enjoyed a steady career in television and film, although she didn't make her acting debut until 1980, when she was already in her 40s. Her first film role was in Under the Rainbow, a comedy about aspiring little people actors starring Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher. The film earned pans and two Razzie nominations, but the following year notched a big early film for Rubinstein, who stole her scenes as Tangina, the medium who attempts to save little Carol Anne Freeling in Poltergeist.
Rubinstein's Tangina is still her best-known role, but other notable appearances come to mind. As Madame Serena in Teen Witch, she guided the young Robyn Lively as her witchy powers and totally '80s fashion sense developed.
Audiences also loved Rubinstein on the television series "Picket Fences," where she played Ginny Weedon, the sassy and sweet dispatcher of Rome, Wisconsin's police department.
In addition to her acting work, Rubinstein was a longtime supporter of AIDS/HIV advocacy, and appeared in a series of 1984 LA County awareness ads as a loving mother figure warning her "children" to practice safe sex. The Advocate recently visited Rubinstein at her home to discuss her activism, which she says adversely affected her career: "I knew I'd be taking a bad hit, and I frankly didn't give a rat's behind. I wanted to do my part, and that was my part at the time."
Watch The Advocate interview here, and share your favorite Zelda Rubinstein memory below: