Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Great Gatsby, The Day of the Locust, Nashville, Airport 1975, and Alfred Hitchcock's final film, Family Plot. Over the course of her career, she won two Golden Globe Awards (out of three nominations), and an Academy Award nomination in 1970 for Best Supporting Actress, among numerous other honors.
Black was born as Karen Blanche Ziegler in Park Ridge, Illinois, the daughter of Elsie Mary (née Reif), a writer of several prize-winning children's novels, and Norman A. Ziegler. Her paternal grandfather was Arthur Ziegler, a classical musician and the first violinist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Her sister is actress Gail Brown. She attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, for two years, having commenced university studies in 1954, aged 15. She then moved to New York where she appeared in a number of Off-Broadway productions.
She had previously written and sung the theme song and supporting songs for The Pyx (1973).
In 1970, Black appeared as Rayette, the waitress girlfriend of Jack Nicholson, in the film Five Easy Pieces, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.
She starred as Nancy Pryor, the stewardess who is forced to fly the plane, in the disaster film Airport 1975. That same year, she played multiple roles in the televised anthology film Trilogy of Terror. The segments were named after the women involved in the plot: a plain college professor who seduces a student ("Julie"), a pair of sisters who squabble over their father's inheritance ("Millicent and Therese"), and, most chillingly, the lonely recipient of a cursed Zuni fetish that comes to life and pursues her relentlessly ("Amelia").
During the next two years, Black had leading roles for famed directors as an aspiring Hollywood actress in John Schlesinger's The Day of the Locust, as a country singer in Robert Altman's Nashville and as a kidnapper in what turned out to be Alfred Hitchcock's last film, Family Plot. She also co-starred with Bette Davis in a horror film, Burnt Offerings.
In April 2009, Black reunited with director Steve Balderson for Stuck! – an homage to film noir women-in-prison dramas, which co-starred Mink Stole, Pleasant Gehman and The Go-Go's Jane Wiedlin. Black stars also in the John Landis-produced 2010 thriller Some Guy Who Kills People.
Personal lifeBlack has been married four times, first to Charles Black from 1955 to 1962, then to Robert Burton, who played her student in the TV movie Trilogy of Terror, from April 18, 1973 to October 1974. Black was next married to actor and screenwriter L. M. Kit Carson on July 4, 1975 and subsequently divorced; their son is actor Hunter Carson. She married Stephen Eckelberry on September 27, 1987 and they remain married. They have an adopted daughter, Celine.
She has been a Scientologist since the 1970s and, despite some 2006 rumors to the contrary, she and her husband are still active.