The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
Stars of the '80s
Debra Winger
Born 17 May 1955 in Cleveland, Ohio, Debra Winger was six years old when her family moved to California.. Graduating from high school at age 15, she went to Israel for a year and, a child of Orthodox Jews, applied for Israeli citizenship, worked on a collective, and joined the Israeli army for three months before returning to Los Angeles and attending California State University to pursue a degree in sociology. A near-fatal auto accident in 1973 left her in a coma. For several months she was blind in one eye and partially paralyzed. Once recovered, she embarked on an acting career, signing up for Michael Gazzo's acting workshop.
Appearing first in a number of commercials, Winger was then cast as Lynda Carter's younger sister Drusilla ("Wonder Girl") in the TV series Wonder Woman during the 1976-77 season. She won small roles in several films during the late Seventies before getting her big break in 1980's Urban Cowboy, beating out more than 200 other actresses to costar opposite John Travolta. Winger followed up this success with a pair of Oscar-nominated performances in An Officer and A Gentleman (1982) and Terms of Endearment (1983). Her voice, electronically altered, was used as the voice of the alien in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. She stepped in for Raquel Welch to star opposite Nick Nolte in a film version of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row (1982), and agreed to star in Mike's Murder (1984) for Urban Cowboy director James Bridges, but neither movie was well-received. Winger fared better with Black Widow (1987) and Betrayed (1988), the latter a Costa-Gavras thriller about white supremacists.
Winger's determination to be acknowledged as a serious actress led her to turn down numerous film offers, and she developed a reputation for being a very intense artist who was sometimes difficult to work with. The care with which she picked her roles paid off in the 1990s, as she earned kudos for performances in The Sheltering Sky (1990), A Dangerous Woman (1993) and Forget Paris (1995). A third Oscar nomination came her way for her role in 1993's Shadowlands, in which she played American poet Joy Gresham, who falls in love with British author C.S. Lewis, played by Anthony Hopkins.
As one of Hollywood's most popular leading ladies during the 1980s, Winger's personal life was often in the spotlight; along with high-profile relationships with Nick Nolte and Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey, she has been married to actors Timothy Hutton (by whom she had a son, Emmanuel) and Arliss Howard.

1980s Filmography
Urban Cowboy (1980)
An Officer and A Gentleman (1982)
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Cannery Row (1982)
Terms of Endearment (1983)
Mike's Murder (1984)
Legal Eagles (1986)
Made in Heaven (1987)
Black Widow (1987)
Betrayed (1988)


Critics' Comments
Urban Cowboy (1980)
"Debra Winger...sexily strutted away with the picture and turned herself into a star."
-- People Weekly

An Officer and A Gentleman (1982)
"It's another fetching little slut role for Winger and she makes the most of it."
-- Variety

Cannery Row (1982)
"Debra Winger (replacing a sacked Raquel Welch, who sued and won a bundle for the insult) is potently sexy as the doxy who loves [Doc]. Winger's Urban Cowboy zip may be inappropriate for a period piece, but it's welcome since the film's pace is funereal."
-- People Weekly

Terms of Endearment  (1983)
"Nothing Winger has done previously prepared us for the virtuoso work she exhibits here; she is stunning."
-- People Weekly

Legal Eagles (1986)
"The tension between [Robert] Redford and Winger does indeed remind us of Hepburn and Tracy, who in their best pictures seemed to fight just so they could enjoy making up. If the whole movie had been scaled down a little, into just the story of these characters, we might have had something here."
 -- Roger Ebert

Black Widow (1987)
"Winger and [Theresa] Russell are both talented and watchable young actresses, so the picture has a lot going for it thanks to their casting alone"
 -- Variety

Winger with John Travolta in Urban Cowboy