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Ellen Burstyn Shares Her Life Story From Quarantine

The star of 'The Exorcist' on shelter-at-home life and finding peace in tough times


spinner image Actress Ellen Burstyn
Jee Cihangir Duman

Like everyone else, Hollywood stars have lots of time to think these shelter-at-home days, and they're sharing their thoughts on life in a new digital series called Dispatches from Quarantine, created by Silver Screen Studios and the cultural nonprofit group Reboot (available on YouTube and silverscreenstudios.org). Among those telling their uplifting stories are Carl Reiner; Norman Lear; Larry King; Marion Ross; Tommy Chong; and Ellen Burstyn, whose career is soaring at 87.

Burstyn is best known for high-prestige hits (The Exorcist, whose demon-attack scene gave her a permanent back injury; The Last Picture Show; Requiem for a Dream). On a shelf at home, she keeps her Emmy for Law & Order: SVU; her Golden Globe for Same Time, Next Year; and her Oscar for Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. With six Oscar nominations, seven Golden Globe nominations and eight Emmy nominations, she's awash with honors.

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But in some ways her life has been hard. She survived an abusive mother and the hard world of a woman in Hollywood and found peace in the gently mystical Sufi religion. In her Dispatches from Quarantine episode, she looks back on the lessons of her experience. “Very early on, I learned how to abide suffering and trouble,” she explains. “I learned how to hold steady in a storm.” Since COVID-19 shut down her industry, she has taken a pause in her flurry of work — 29 major TV and movie projects in her 80s alone. Quarantine has taught her “to just be with now, not be in expectation for what I hope is coming but just being — now."

She also reflects on the past, including her mother. “We didn't really get along. And now I miss her. Very often, I have the impulse to call her, and I hope through some mystical magic, she hears that."

The makers of Dispatches from Quarantine hope you'll be inspired by the uplifting stories of Burstyn and others to call your own older loved ones to check in on them, record the interaction, and send it in to share publicly. Get tips on how to do so at silverscreenstudios.org/dispatches/. And hear the rest of what Burstyn has to say in this video:

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