Marilyn Eastman, star of Night of the Living Dead, dies aged 87

Marilyn played Helen Cooper in the cult classic

marilyn eastman living dead

The horror community has lost one of its own with the news that Marilyn Eastman, best known for her role as Helen Cooper in George A. Romero’s classic, Night of the Living Dead has died at the age of 87. As well as the role of Helen in the movie, she also played a small part as a female ghoul eating an insect, so she was on double duty when it came to acting in the cult hit.

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The news of her passing was shared by her son, John Eastman, on Facebook today, where he said that she passed away “peacefully”.

“I’m very sad to announce the passing of my mother, MARILYN EASTMAN on 8/22/21 in Tampa, Florida,” he said in a statement. “Marilyn Marie Johnson was born in Davenport, Iowa on December 17th, 1933. 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. 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. She is survived by my brother Michael and I, 5 Grandchildren and 8 Great Grandchildren.

“Marilyn Eastman died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 87. It was her desire to return to Pittsburgh and those plans are to be announced at a later date.”

In Night of the Living Dead, the character of Helen was memorably killed with a masonry trowel in the movie before coming back as a member of the undead, but her involvement with the zombies/ghouls was more than that as she was also involved in the make-up process for making them all look delightfully creepy.

Eastman’s attachment to the film stretches further than that too as she was the vice president of Hardman Associates, Inc, one of the two executives Romero went to to try and find a producer for the horror flick. She then joined Romero and Karl Hardman to form the production company, Image Ten, who were integral in getting the film off of the ground.

So fans of the movie owe a lot to Eastman and she was far more integral to the whole production than many even realise.

The George A. Romero Foundation took to Twitter to share their condolences while also mentioning Karl Hardman, her business partner and husband, who died in 2007.

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Night of the Living Dead is currently streaming on BBC iPlayer.