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365 Days of Oscar: What Could Have Been for Brad Dourif

On Brad Dourif’s 74th birthday, I remember the performance that should have made him not just an Oscar-winner but an all-timer: his Billy Bibbitt in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is heartrending. Two scenes opposite Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched stand out: first, when she questions him about his first suicide attempt; second, when she catches him with a prostitute. He plays these moments with boyish nervousness and unguarded apprehension. He perfectly captured the demeanor of a troubled man not quite ready for the world, but one who so desperately needs to embrace it. It’s a heartbreaking part that Dourif slowly polishes into a powerfully lasting acting achievement.

This article is part of a special year-long series of anecdotes, reflections and thoughts about the Academy Awards.