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Actress Bibi Besch dead at 54

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 13 -- Bibi Besch, an Emmy-nominated actress who appeared in such series as 'Northern Exposure' and 'ER' and dozens of made-for-TV movies, has died in Los Angeles, her manager said Friday. She was 54. Besch, mother of actress Samantha Mathis, had been under treatment for cancer off and on and had continued working, but her health took a sudden, unexpected turn for the worse and she died Sept. 7, manager Ric Beddingfield said. 'This was a very big surprise...a response to a new outburst (of cancer) somewhere that just took her,' Beddingfield said. Her last role was a guest shot on a new episode of 'Melrose Place' that aired Wednesday. Beddingfield said he and Besch had been so confident of her health that she had been set to work soon on an episode of NBC's new drama 'The Pretender.' In 1992 Besch received a supporting actress Emmy nomination for the TV movie 'Doing Time on Maple Drive.' The following year she was nominated again in a guest actress category for playing Janine Turner's mother in several episodes of 'Northern Exposure.' Last season she played an annoying, demanding patient on 'ER' and the mother in an episode of 'The Jeff Foxworthy Show.' Her other series credits included 'Law & Order,' 'L.A. Law,' 'Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,' 'Coach' and 'Murder, She Wrote.' Her miniseries and movie roles included 'The Day After,' 'Victory at Entebbe,' 'The Hamptons' and 'Backstairs at the White House.' Besch, born Feb. 1, 1942, in Vienna, Austria, also worked frequently in features, among them 'Tremors,' 'Steel Magnolias,' 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,' 'Betsy's Wedding,' 'Who's That Girl' and 'The Promise.'

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On the New York stage she appeared in 'Fame,' 'The Chinese Prime Minister,' 'Here Lies Jeremy Troy' and 'Once for the Asking.' Beddingfield said Besch probably was one of the busiest actresses of her age. 'She was really an exquisite, elegant lady,' he said. 'Everybody loved her. Wherever I went in the business people said, 'Oh, I love her. ' 'She was very sweet, very unpretentious, but she still had sensational style and was genuine.' Besch was a member of the Screen Actors Guild board of directors from 1990 until her death, serving on eight of its committees. 'Bibi was a caring and dedicated board member who always sought to put the members' needs first,' SGA President Richard Masur said. 'But first and foremost, she was an extraordinaray actress whose substantial body of work will serve as a model for us all.' In addition to Mathis, Besch is survived by her father, two sisters and one brother. A memorial service was planned for 1 p.m. Monday at the Director's Guild Theater in Los Angeles. The family asked that memorial contributions be sent in Besch's name to the Screen Actors Guild Foundation to go toward its catastrophic illness fund.

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