Debra Winger shot to stardom atop a mechanical bull in the honky-tonk drama Urban Cowboy (1980). As John Travolta’s love interest, Winger’s unconventional, wide-eyed beauty and spunk endeared her to moviegoers-and moviemakers. Prior to this, Winger had worked in relative obscurity, from appearing as Wonder Woman’s little sister on the eponymous 1970s TV series, to such middling films as Thank God It’s Friday (1978) and Slumber Party ’57 (1977), her screen debut.
Born on May 16, 1955, in Cleveland, OH, Debra Winger did not have her sights set on stardom early on. She spent part of her youth in an Israeli kibbutz, and then studied psychology and criminology at California State University. It was after a life-threatening accident while working at the Magic Mountain amusement park that she decided to pursue acting.
Her star-making performance in Urban Cowboy won her the part of Richard Gere’s blue-collar love interest in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982). Her work in the film earned her an Oscar® nod, while her candid comments about co-star Richard Gere and her nude scene earned her the reputation of being “difficult.” Whether this reputation was earned or a symptom of the old double standard (frank, opinionated men are admired for their forthrightness, while like women are disdained), Winger continued to work and earn kudos for her performances.
She earned another Oscar® nod for her heartrending portrayal of terminally-ill Emma Greenaway in Terms of Endearment (1983). Unbeknownst to many, she also had a hand in 1982’s runaway hit E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, supplying some of the voice work for the titular alien. Winger then scored another hit with 1986’s romantic drama Legal Eagles, in which she found herself in a love triangle with Robert Redford and Darryl Hannah. She received yet another Oscar® nomination for Shadowlands (1993), David Attenborough’s critically acclaimed film about the love affair between C.S. Lewis and his American fan Joy Gresham.
Along with delivering impactful, hit-making performances time and again, Debra Winger remains one of Hollywood’s most outspoken actresses. It was most likely for this reason that actor turned director and producer Rosanna Arquette gave Winger top billing in Searching for Debra Winger (2003), a documentary about the difficulties faced by over-forty actresses in Hollywood.
Also in 2003 she appeared in Radio (2003), a true story based on a mentally-challenged man (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) who helps coach a high school football team in the South. Winger always picks her roles with care and there have only been a few of them in recent years including the 2005 TV Movie Dawn Anna for which she was nominated for an Emmy. Her most recent work has been in Netflix tv series The Ranch (2016).