Nomadland Actress Melissa Yandell Smith Dies of Cancer at 64

·2 min read
Melissa Smith
Melissa Smith

LIZ HAFALIA/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Melissa Smith

Melissa Yandell Smith, who played Frances McDormand's character's sister in Nomadland, has died. She was 64.

The actress served as the Conservatory Director at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco for 25 years. A.C.T. announced her death in a statement released on Sept. 23.

"It is with great sorrow that we share that Melissa Smith, longtime Director of the Conservatory, passed away on September 7, 2021," the statement read. "Melissa's impact on A.C.T. and on the American theater is immense. So many have been touched by her talent, generosity, intellect, grace, and wonderful sense of humor. She will be greatly missed."

In an obituary in The New York Times, Smith's cause of death was revealed to be cancer.

"She passed away quietly September 7, 2021 in her home in San Francisco surrounded by her husband, son, brother and friends. The cause was cancer," the obituary read.

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During her time at A.C.T., Smith "redesigned, invigorated and maintained the Master of Fine Arts Program at the highest level," according to her obituary.

"She had a considerable force in any room with her intense blue eyes, and no reluctance to butt heads, so many were incredulous that death could have taken her so soon," the obituary read.

Smith was born in Louisville, Kentucky on June 8, 1957, the eldest of three kids to Yandell R. Smith and Betty F. Smith.

She attended Yale University where she graduated in 1979 with a bachelor's degree. There she met her husband, actor Warren Keith, with whom she had a son, Owen.

Smith acted in several theater productions such as Uncle Vanya, Marie and Bruce, Continental Divide and Blithe Spirit.

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In December 2020, Smith acted opposite McDormand, her former Yale classmate and longtime friend, in the Oscar-winning Nomadland, which she filmed during her "declining health," according to her obituary.

In the movie, Smith acts out a scene with her onscreen sister, played by McDormand, saying: "You could see me when I was hiding from everybody else. Sometimes you could see me before I saw myself. I needed that in my life."

Smith is survived by her husband and son, as well as several family members including her mother, her brother and sister.

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