Amagansett Actress Joan Copeland Dies at 99

Joan Copeland in 2011
Joan Copeland in 2011
Paul Bruinooge/

Actress Joan Copeland, a longtime Amagansett and Manhattan homeowner who starred in television shows, films and Broadway musicals over the past 60 years, died in her sleep on January 4. She was 99.

She won a Drama Desk Award in 1981 for her theater performance in The American Clock, her film credits included the Oscar-nominated 1987 comedy Happy New Year, and among her TV appearances was a recurring role as Judge Rebecca Stein on Law & Order.

“From the time I was a little girl I had the stage bug,” she told The New York Times in 1981. “Perhaps I was unconsciously influenced by my brother. He had made it. I was desperate to get out of the dreariness I was living in.”

Born Joan Maxine Miller on June 1, 1922, Copeland was the daughter of a clothing manufacturer and schoolteacher. She was the younger sister of Kermit Miller, a salesman, and playwright Arthur Miller, who was married to Marilyn Monroe and won a Pulitzer Prize for Death of a Salesman.

After graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, she made her professional stage debut in 1945 as the titular female lead during a performance of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Her Broadway debut came three years later in Sundown Beach.

Joan Copeland with Joel Vig
Joan Copeland with Joel VigJonathon Ziegler/

While she appeared in more than a dozen films — her first was in 1958’s The Goddess, about Monroe — she preferred the stage and TV. Soaps in which she appeared included Search for Tomorrow, One Life to Live and As the World Turns. She had also made cameos on shows ranging from All In The Family to ER.

Although she made a name for herself on her own, her career sometimes dovetailed with that of her brother, who wrote the play The American Clock for which her performance earned honors. She was among the first members of The Actors Studio, a professional organization and drama school, and won an Obie Award in 1991 for role in The American Plan, one of her many off-Broadway performances. She was nominated for another Drama Desk Award for the 1976 revival of the musical Pal Joey. And she was Katharine Hepburn’s standby as Coco Chanel in the 1969 musical Coco.

Her final film role was as a nun in the 2011 short Love Is Like Life But Longer. That year, Joan’s Show — a one-woman musical about her life directed by Joel Vig — had an off-Broadway run.

Copeland was married for 43 years to George J. Kupchik, an engineer and dean of the School of Health Sciences at Hunter College who died of lung cancer in 1989 at age 74.

She is also predeceased by her two brothers. She is survived by her son Eric and niece Rebecca Miller, a filmmaker married to actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Funeral information was not immediately available.

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