In her six decade career, Dickinson has appeared in more than 50 films, including Ocean's 11 (1960), The Sins of Rachel Cade (1961), Jessica (1962), Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), The Killers (1964), The Art of Love (1965), The Chase (1966), Point Blank (1967), Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971), The Outside Man (1972), and Big Bad Mama (1974). From 1974 to 1978, Dickinson starred as Sergeant Leann "Pepper" Anderson in the NBC crime series Police Woman, for which she received the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama and three Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series nominations.
During her later career, Dickinson starred in several television movies and miniseries, also playing supporting roles in films such as Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1994), Sabrina (1995), Pay It Forward (2000), and Big Bad Love (2001). As lead actress, she starred in Brian De Palma's 1980 erotic crime thriller Dressed to Kill, for which she received a Saturn Award for Best Actress.
Dickinson, the second of four daughters, was born Angeline Brown (called "Angie" by family and friends) on September 30, 1931, in Kulm, North Dakota, the daughter of Fredericka (née Hehr) and Leo Henry Brown. Her family is of German descent and she was raised Roman Catholic. Her father was a small-town newspaper publisher and editor, working on the Kulm Messenger and the Edgeley Mail.
In 1942, when she was 10 years old, her family moved to Burbank, California, where she attended Bellarmine-Jefferson High School, graduating in 1947, at 15 years of age. The previous year, she had won the Sixth Annual Bill of Rights essay contest. She then studied at Immaculate Heart College, Los Angeles, and at Glendale Community College, becoming a business graduate by 1954. Taking a cue from her publisher father, she had intended to be a writer. While a student from 1950–52, she worked as a secretary at Lockheed Air Terminal in Burbank (now Bob Hope Airport) and in a parts factory. She became Angie Dickinson in 1952, when she married football player Gene Dickinson.
Dickinson entered a beauty pageant in 1953 and placed second. The exposure brought her to the attention of a television industry producer, who asked her to consider a career in acting. She studied the craft and a few years later was approached by NBC to guest-star on a number of variety shows, including The Colgate Comedy Hour. She soon met Frank Sinatra, who became a lifelong friend. She later was cast as Sinatra's wife in the film Ocean's 11.
On New Year's Eve 1954, Dickinson made her television acting debut in an episode of Death Valley Days. This led to roles in such productions as Matinee Theatre (eight episodes), Buffalo Bill Jr., City Detective, It's a Great Life (two episodes), Gray Ghost, General Electric Theater, Broken Arrow, The People's Choice (twice), Meet McGraw (twice), Northwest Passage, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, Tombstone Territory, Cheyenne, and The Restless Gun.
In 1956, Dickinson was cast as Ann Drew, who slips a gun to her jailed husband, Harry (John Craven), a former associate of the Jesse James gang, in the ABC/Desilu Western series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, starring Hugh O'Brian. In the story line, Harry vowed never to go to prison and was shot to death while escaping.
In 1957, she was cast as Amy Bender in Richard Boone's series Have Gun – Will Travel in the episode "A Matter of Ethics". She played the sister of a man who was killed and who wanted the murderer lynched.
In 1958, she was cast as Laura Meadows in the episode "The Deserters" of an ABC/Warner Bros. Western series, Colt .45, with Wayde Preston. That year, she also played the role of defendant Mrs. Fargo in the Perry Mason episode "The Case of the One-Eyed Witness".
Dickinson went on to create memorable characters in Mike Hammer, Wagon Train, and Men into Space. In 1965, she had a recurring role as Carol Tredman on NBC's Dr. Kildare. She had a memorable turn as the duplicitous murder conspirator in a 1964 episode of The Fugitive series with David Janssen and fellow guest star Robert Duvall. She was at her evil best as an unfaithful wife and bank robber in the 1958 "Wild Blue Yonder" episode of Rod Cameron's syndicated television series State Trooper. She starred in two Alfred Hitchcock Hour episodes, "Captive Audience" with James Mason on October 18, 1962, and "Thanatos Palace Hotel" on February 1, 1965.
Dickinson's motion picture career began with a small, uncredited role in Lucky Me (1954) starring Doris Day, followed by The Return of Jack Slade (1955), Man with the Gun (1955), and Hidden Guns (1956). She had her first starring role in Gun the Man Down (1956) with James Arness, followed by the Sam Fuller cult film China Gate (1957), which depicted an early view of the Vietnam War.
Rejecting the Marilyn Monroe/Jayne Mansfield style of platinum blonde sex-symbolism, because she felt it would narrow her acting options, Dickinson initially allowed studios to lighten her naturally brunette hair to only honey-blonde. She appeared early in her career mainly in B-movies or Westerns, including Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend (1957), in which she co-starred with James Garner. In the 1958 crime drama Cry Terror!, Dickinson had a supporting role opposite James Mason and Rod Steiger as a femme fatale.
In 1959, Dickinson's big-screen breakthrough role came in Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo, in which she played a flirtatious gambler called "Feathers" who becomes attracted to the town sheriff played by Dickinson's childhood idol John Wayne. The film co-starred Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Walter Brennan. When Hawks sold his personal contract with her to a major studio without her knowledge, she was unhappy. Dickinson nonetheless became one of the more prominent leading ladies of the next decade, beginning with The Bramble Bush with Richard Burton. She also took a supporting role in Ocean's 11 (1960) with friends Sinatra and Martin.
These were followed by a political potboiler, A Fever in the Blood (1961); a Belgian Congo-based melodrama, The Sins of Rachel Cade (1961), in which she played a missionary nurse tempted by lust; a scheming woman in Rome Adventure (1962), filmed in Italy, and the title role in Jean Negulesco's Jessica (1962) with Maurice Chevalier, in which she played a young midwife resented by the married women of the town, set in Sicily. Angie also shared the screen with friend Gregory Peck as a military nurse in the dark comedy Captain Newman, M.D. (1963).
For The Killers (1964), originally intended to be the first made-for-television movie, but released to theatres due to its violent content, Dickinson played a femme fatale opposite future U.S. President Ronald Reagan in his last movie role. Directed by Don Siegel, it was a remake of the 1946 version based on a story by Ernest Hemingway and the only film Reagan made in which he was cast as a villain. He viciously slaps Dickinson in one of the film's scenes.
Dickinson co-starred in the comedy The Art of Love (1965), playing the love interest of both James Garner and Dick Van Dyke. She joined a star-studded Arthur Penn/Sam Spiegel production, The Chase (1966), along with Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, and Robert Duvall. That same year, she was featured in Cast a Giant Shadow, a war story with Kirk Douglas.
Dickinson's best movie of this era may have been John Boorman's cult classic Point Blank (1967), a lurid crime drama with Lee Marvin as a criminal betrayed by his wife and best friend and out for revenge. The film epitomized the stark urban mood of the period, and its reputation has grown through the years.
Westerns would continue to be a part of her work in the late '60s, when she starred in The Last Challenge opposite Glenn Ford, in Young Billy Young with Robert Mitchum, and in Sam Whiskey, where she gave rising star Burt Reynolds his first on-screen kiss.
In 1971, she played a lascivious substitute high school teacher in the dark comedy Pretty Maids All in a Row for director Roger Vadim and writer-producer Gene Roddenberry, in which her character seduces a sexually inexperienced student, portrayed by John David Carson, against the backdrop of a series of murders of female students at the same high school; it was a box-office failure, which also starred opposite Rock Hudson and Telly Savalas. Also in 1971 she portrayed the ambitious wife of Robert Culp in the TV movie "See the Man Run". In 1972's The Outside Man, a French movie shot in Los Angeles, with Jean-Louis Trintignant, directed by Jacques Deray, she plays the wife of a mobster. In 1973, she co-starred with Roy Thinnes in the supernatural thriller The Norliss Tapes a TV movie produced and directed by Dan Curtis that in later years attained a modest cult following.
One of Dickinson's best known and most sexually provocative movie roles followed, that of the tawdry widow Wilma McClatchie from the Great Depression romp Big Bad Mama (1974) with William Shatner and Tom Skerritt. Although well into her forties at the time, she appeared nude in several scenes, which created interest in the movie and a new generation of male fans for Dickinson.
A 1966 Esquire cover gained Dickinson additional fame and notoriety, her having posed in nothing but a sweater and a pair of panty hose. The photo became so iconic, that while celebrating the magazine's 70th anniversary in 2003, the Dickinson pose was recreated for the cover by Britney Spears.
Dickinson returned to the small screen in March 1974 for an episode of the critically acclaimed hit anthology series Police Story. The guest appearance proved to be so popular, NBC offered Dickinson her own television show, which became a ground-breaking weekly series called Police Woman; it was the first successful dramatic TV series to feature a woman in the title role. At first, Dickinson was reluctant, but when producers told her she could become a household name, she accepted the role. They were right.
In the series, she played Sgt. Leann "Pepper" Anderson, an officer of the Los Angeles Police Department's Criminal Conspiracy Unit, who often works undercover. The show became a hit, reaching number one in many countries in which it aired during its first year. It ran for four seasons and Dickinson won a Golden Globe award, and received Emmy nominations for three consecutive years.
Co-starring on the show was Earl Holliman as Sergeant Bill Crowley, Anderson's commanding officer, along with Charles Dierkop as investigator Pete Royster and Ed Bernard as investigator Joe Styles.
The series ran from 1974 to 1978. The same year the show ended, Dickinson reprised her Pepper Anderson character on the television special Ringo, co-starring with Ringo Starr and John Ritter. She also parodied the part in the 1975 and 1979 Bob Hope Christmas specials for NBC. She did the same years later on the 1987 Christmas episode of NBC's Saturday Night Live.
Police Woman caused a surge of applications for employment from women to police departments around the United States; journalists who have in recent years examined the inspiration for long-term female law enforcement officials to adopt this vocation as their own have been surprised by how often Dickinson's Police Woman has been referenced.
Dickinson and Police Woman proved that a female lead could carry an hour-long television series, paving the way for several female-starring, hour-long TV series during the 1970s and 1980s, such as Charlie's Angels, Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman, and Cagney and Lacey. In 1987, the Los Angeles Police Department awarded Dickinson an honorary doctorate, which led her to quip, "Now you can call me Doctor Pepper."
On occasion during the 1970s, Dickinson took part in the popular Dean Martin Celebrity Roast on television, and herself was the guest of honor on August 2, 1977, roasted by a dais of celebrities that included James Stewart, Orson Welles, and her Police Woman series co-star Earl Holliman.
Having done a television series plus the miniseries Pearl (1978) about the Pearl Harbor bombing of 1941, Dickinson's career in feature films appeared to be in decline, but she returned to the big screen in Brian De Palma's erotic thriller Dressed to Kill (1980), for which she gained considerable notice, particularly for a long, silent scene in a museum before the character meets her fate. The role of Kate Miller, a sexually frustrated New York housewife, earned her a 1981 Saturn Award for Best Actress. "The performers are excellent," wrote Vincent Canby in his July 25, 1980 New York Times review, "especially Miss Dickinson."
She took a less substantial role in 1981's Death Hunt, reuniting her with Lee Marvin, and also appeared in Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen. Earlier that year, she had been the first choice to play the character Krystle Carrington on the television series Dynasty, but deciding she wanted to spend more time with her daughter, she turned it down; the role instead went to Linda Evans. In the mid-1980s, Dickinson declined the role of Sable Colby on the Dynasty spin-off, The Colbys.
After nixing her own Johnny Carson-produced prospective sitcom, The Angie Dickinson Show, in 1980 after only two episodes had been shot because she did not feel she was funny enough, the private-eye series Cassie & Co. became her unsuccessful attempt at a television comeback. She then starred in several TV movies, such as One Shoe Makes It Murder (1982), Jealousy (1984), A Touch of Scandal (1984), and Stillwatch (1987). She had a pivotal role in the highly rated miniseries Hollywood Wives (1985), based on a novel by Jackie Collins.
In 1982, and again in 1986, Dickinson appeared in two of Perry Como's Christmas specials for the ABC television network, in both of which she did something she was not known to have done before: singing. Dickinson later denied having sung on camera since then in an interview with Larry King conducted at the approximate time of her appearance in Duets.
In motion pictures, Dickinson reprised her role as Wilma McClatchie for Big Bad Mama II (1987) and completed the television movie Kojak: Fatal Flaw, in which she was reunited with Telly Savalas. She co-starred with Willie Nelson and numerous buddies in the 1988 television western Once Upon a Texas Train.
She was presented one of the Golden Boot Awards in 1989 for her contributions to Western cinema.
In the 1993 ABC miniseries Wild Palms, produced by Oliver Stone, she was the sadistic, militant sister of Senator Tony Kruetzer, played by Robert Loggia. That same year, she starred as a ruthless Montana spa owner in Gus Van Sant's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues with Uma Thurman.
In 1995, Sydney Pollack cast her as the prospective mother-in-law of Greg Kinnear in the romantic comedy Sabrina starring Harrison Ford, a remake of the Billy Wilder classic. She played Burt Reynolds' wife in the thriller The Maddening and the mother of Rick Aiello and Robert Cicchini in the National Lampoon comedy The Don's Analyst. In 1997, she seduced old flame Artie (Rip Torn) in an episode of HBO's The Larry Sanders Show called "Artie and Angie and Hank and Hercules".
Dickinson acted out the alcoholic, homeless mother of Helen Hunt's character in Pay It Forward (2000); the grandmother of Gwyneth Paltrow's character in the drama Duets (2000), and the mother of Arliss Howard's character in Big Bad Love (2001), co-starring Debra Winger.
Having appeared in the original Ocean's 11 (1960) with good friends Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, four decades later, she made a brief cameo in the 2001 remake with George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
An avid poker player, during the summer of 2004, she participated in the second season of Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown. After announcing her name, host Dave Foley said, "Sometimes, when we say 'celebrity', we actually mean it."
Dickinson is a recipient of the state of North Dakota's Rough Rider Award.
In 1999, Playboy ranked Dickinson number 42 on their list of the "100 Sexiest Stars of the Century". In 2002, TV Guide ranked her number 3 on a list of the "50 Sexiest Television Stars of All Time", behind Diana Rigg and George Clooney (who tied for number 1).
In 2009, Dickinson starred in a Hallmark Channel film, Mending Fences.
She was married to Gene Dickinson, a former football player, from 1952 to 1960.
During her first marriage Dickinson became close friends with John Kenneth Galbraith and Catherine Galbraith. Her extensive visits to them and her touring when J.K. Galbraith was U.S. Ambassador to India are amply recounted in his memoirs Ambassador's Journal and A Life in Our Times.
Dickinson kept her married name after her first divorce. She married Burt Bacharach in 1965. They remained a married couple for 15 years, though late in their marriage they had a period of separation during which each dated other people.
Her daughter with Bacharach, Lea Nikki, known as Nikki, was born a year after they were married. Born three months prematurely, Nikki suffered from chronic health problems, including visual impairment, and was later diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Bacharach composed the music of the song "Nikki" for their fragile young daughter, and Dickinson rejected many roles to focus on caring for her.
She and Bacharach eventually placed her at the Wilson Center, a psychiatric residential treatment facility for adolescents in Faribault, Minnesota, where she remained for nine years. Later, Nikki studied geology at California Lutheran University, but her poor eyesight prevented her from pursuing it as a career. On January 4, 2007, Nikki took her own life by suffocation in her apartment in the Ventura County suburb of Thousand Oaks. She was 40. In a joint statement, Dickinson and Bacharach said,
"She quietly and peacefully committed suicide to escape the ravages to her brain brought on by Asperger's. ...She loved kitties, earthquakes, glacial calving, meteor showers, science, blue skies and sunsets, and Tahiti. She was one of the most beautiful creatures created on this earth, and she is now in the white light, at peace."
For several years in the 1990s Dickinson dated television interviewer Larry King.
In a 2006 interview with NPR, Dickinson stated that she was a Democrat. She supported John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1960.1975 – Best Actress in a Drama Series for Police Woman – nominated
1976 – Best Actress in a Drama Series for Police Woman – nominated
1977 – Best Actress in a drama Series for Police Woman – nominated
1960 – New Star Actress of the Year – won
1975 – Best Actress in a Drama Series for Police Woman – won
1976 – Best Actress in a Drama Series for Police Woman – nominated
1977 – Best Actress in a Drama Series for Police Woman – nominated
1978 – Best Actress in a Drama Series for Police Woman – nominated
1980 – Best Actress for Dressed to Kill – won
1987 – Received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to television