Marlee Matlin, the Academy Award winner and one-time guest star on Law & Order: SVU, has a TV iconic to thank for keeping her career on track.
Matlin freely discusses the addiction she once had, back in her much younger days. She’s 55 now and sober for the last 34 years. Matlin won her Oscar when she was 21. That made her the youngest-ever winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress. It was for Children of a Lesser God, her first-ever movie.
Matlin played Sarah Norman who worked as a janitor at her former school. Matlin, like the character she played, is deaf. The movie follows her relationship with teacher James Leeds, played by William Hurt.
After her breakout success, Matlin also tried TV. That included her role in 2005 on an episode of Law & Order: SVU.
But in an interview with People, she talked about how Happy Days star Henry Winkler took her in after she left rehab. Matlin first met Winkler and his wife, Stacey, when Matlin was 12. She was part of an after-school program at the International Center on Deafness and the Arts. The program is outside Chicago.
“They gave me a foundation to build my career on,” says Matlin of Winkler, aka Fonzie from Happy Days.
Winkler refers to Matlin as his “second daughter.”
“Stacey and I went to a talent show at this place. A young girl came out, 12 years old, couldn’t hear, and danced to a song from The Pajama Game,” Winkler told People. “And Stacey and I wept, not because it was a little girl dancing who couldn’t hear, but because her spirit jumped out of her body and into everyone’s hearts. You couldn’t miss it if you had a pulse.”
Matlin Played a Law & Order: SVU Character Accused of Being Part of Organ Ring
Fans of Law & Order: SVU probably remember Matlin’s episode. It was called Parts and it was first telecast in May 2005. She was nominated for an Emmy for her guest-starring role on Law & Order: SVU. She also received Emmy nominations for her work in The Practice and Seinfeld.
On Law & Order: SVU, Matlin portrayed Dr. Amy Solwey, who was an in-vitro fertilization specialist. She suffered from a genetic disorder that left her deaf. It also caused her kidney failure. Solwey was in chronic pain and thought about committing suicide. She assisted in a woman taking her own life.
Matlin’s character became close with Law & Order: SVU character John Munch. And here’s another connection to Winkler. Richard Belzer played Munch. He’s Winkler’s cousin. Later, we find out that Matlin is suspected of being part of a black-market procurement ring. She also was waiting for a kidney transplant. Matlin’s character allowed an organ intended for her to go to a young boy. She decided to leave her fate up to chance.
Matlin now is starring in CODA, a coming-of-age drama for Apple TV.