Marilyn Eastman, an actress who appeared in Night of the Living Dead in addition to working as a driving force for the classic zombie movie behind the scenes, has passed away. In a public message posted to Facebook on Monday, Eastman’s son John announced that his mother passed away peacefully in her sleep. She was 87 years old.
“I’m very sad to announce the passing of my mother, Marilyn Eastman on 8/22/21 in Tampa, Florida,” John wrote. “My mother moved to Pittsburgh in the early 60’s and eventually joined Karl Hardman at Hardman Associates. Later in life Marilyn and Karl became business and life partners until Karl’s passing in 2007. In addition to her iconic role as Helen Cooper in the 1968 Horror Classic Night of the Living Dead, Marilyn was a Stage, Television and Radio performer as well as a writer and producer.”
He added: “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.”
Marilyn Marie Johnson was born in Davenpoprt, Iowa on Dec. 17, 1933. On screen, she is best known for her role in George A. Romero’s zombie classic Night of the Living Dead. Released in 1968, the movie is widely credited as a pioneer of zombie fiction as we know it. In the movie, Eastman plays the role of Helen Cooper, though she also has a role as a ghoul shown eating an insect.
In addition to her on-screen appearances, Eastman was a driving force for Night of the Living Dead behind the scenes. She was vice president and creative director of Hardman Associates, an indie film company formed with Karl Hardman. The pair had teamed up with Romero, writer John A. Russo, and producer Russell Streiner to form Image Ten Productions, and together, the filmmakers developed the classic zombie movie. Eastman also supervised the special effects, wardrobe, and makeup.
Prior to her work on Night of the Living Dead, Eastman had played a secretary in an episode of Perry Mason. She also appeared in the 1995 comedy Houseguest with Phil Hartman and Sinbad. In 1996, she had a role in the comedy-horror movie Santa Claws, which was written and directed by John A. Russo. In more recent years, she had become a fan favorite for fans to meet with at horror conventions as noted by her son. Others who knew Eastman are also paying tribute.
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm the passing of Marilyn Eastman on 8/22/21,” tweets the George A. Romero Foundation. “Please join us in wishing her family peace at this painful time. Godspeed, Marilyn. Give our love to Karl.”
Eastman’s survivors include sons John and Michael along with five grandchildren and eight great-granchildren. Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time. According to John, it was among Eastman’s final wishes to return to Pittsburgh for a memorial service and those plans will be announced at a later date. Rest in peace, Marilyn Eastman. This news comes to us from The Hollywood Reporter.