Marilyn Eastman Dies: ‘Night of the Living Dead’ Actress & Producer Was 87

Marilyn Eastman, an actress who played key roles in the production of George A. Romero’s 1968 zombie classic Night of the Living Dead, has died. Her son John Eastman announced the news on Facebook. She was 87.

As Helen Cooper, Eastman is trapped in a farmhouse by the film’s titular ghouls, then killed with a masonry trowel before herself reanimating. Eastman also did makeup on the horror classic and played a zombie seen eating an insect.

But more importantly, Eastman was vice president of a Pittsburgh-based industrial film firm called Hardman Associates, Inc. and one of the two executives Romero approached about producing his film. She became part of a production company called Image Ten which also included Romero and Karl Hardman. Image Ten put up the initial funds for Night of the Living Dead.

The George A. Romero Foundation acknowledged Eastman’s passing in a statement which read in part, “It is with great sadness that we can confirm the passing of Marilyn Eastman on 8/22/21. Please join us in wishing her family peace at this painful time. Godspeed, Marilyn.”

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In his remembrance, John Eastman made a point of stressing his mother’s appreciation for those who liked the film: “I cannot overstate how much she enjoyed the affection and attention shown to her by countless NOLD fans, and up until several weeks ago, was planning personal appearances.”

Here is the full statement posted by her son on Monday:

I’m very sad to announce the passing of my mother, MARILYN EASTMAN on 8/22/21 in Tampa, Florida. Marilyn Marie Johnson was born in Davenport, Iowa on December 17th, 1933. My mother moved to Pittsburgh in the early 60’s and eventually joined Karl Hardman at Hardman Associates. Later in life Marilyn and Karl became business and life partners until Karl’s passing in 2007.

In addition to her iconic role as Helen Cooper in the 1968 Horror Classic “Night of the Living Dead” Marilyn was a Stage, Television and Radio performer as well as a writer and producer. More importantly, she was a hard working single mother who raised my brother and I on her own. I cannot overstate how much she enjoyed the affection and attention shown to her by countless NOLD fans, and up until several weeks ago, was planning personal appearances. She is survived by my brother Michael and I, 5 Grandchildren and 8 Great Grandchildren. Marilyn Eastman died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 87. It was her desire to return to Pittsburgh and those plans are to be announced at a later date.

Eastman’s other acting credits include an episode of Perry Mason and a 1996 horror film called Santa Claws.

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