• Golden Globe Awards

1987: Marlee Matlin Makes History

The 44th Golden Globes were held on January 31, 1987, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. That Saturday night the ballroom was filled with a beautiful crowd of Hollywood and international stars who gathered to celebrate the best in film and television in 1986.
The guest list included the recipient of the Cecil B. deMille Award, Anthony Quinn, with his then wife Jolanda Addolori; Golden Globe winners Olivia de Havilland, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jon VoightDennis Hopper and Ray LiottaTom Selleck and his fiancée Jillie Mack, whom he secretly married in Nevada just a few months later; as well as Steven Spielberg, with his first wife Amy Irving.
Bruce Willis, who won his first Golden Globe that night for his work in Moonlighting, attended the event in the company of his then girlfriend Sherri Rivera before meeting his future wife Demi Moore shortly after. Actress Heather Locklear posed for photographers with then husband and Mötley Crüe’s drummer Tommy Lee.
Nominee Melanie Griffith attended the ceremony with her mother Tippi Hedren, already a Golden Globe winner; first-time nominee Sigourney Weaver posed for photographers in the company of her parents. Golden Globe winner Telly Savalas attended the event with his daughter, and William Shatner posed with two of his daughters, while Golden Globe winner Diahann Carroll attended with her daughter Suzanne Kay, and Golden Globe winner James Brolin with his 19-year-old son Josh.
But all eyes were on 22-year-old Marlee Matlin, who made history that night as the first deaf actress in history to win a Golden Globe for Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Drama for her film debut in Randa Haines’s Children of a Lesser God.

Matlin lost her hearing when she was 18 months old. Nevertheless, she made her stage debut at nine years of age. In 1985, she was cast in a supporting role in a revival of Mark Medoff’s Tony-winning play Children of a Lesser God. Her performance won notice, and she was then cast in the lead role in the film adaptation opposite William Hurt, who also received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.

Speaking to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in 1986, she said: “I don’t like the fact that a long time ago they used hearing people to play deaf people. […] People shouldn’t have to fake deafness, there are real deaf actors and blind actors, minority actors that don’t have the opportunity to work.” Matlin has advocated for this subject throughout her entire 35-year-long career, as well as on her Instagram account.
Matlin has been a trailblazer for many deaf actors, including Golden Globe nominee Troy Kotsur, who co-starred opposite Matlin in CODA, nominated for Best Drama in 2022; as well as A Quiet Place’s Millicent Simmonds; Fargo’s Russell Harvard; Grey’s Anatomy’s Shoshannah Stern; Avatar: The Way of Water’s CJ Jones; and Lauren Ridloff, who portrayed the first deaf superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Eternals.