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Catherine Coulson dies at 71; actress became cult star as Log Lady of 'Twin Peaks'

As filming was revving up for the “Twin Peaks” television pilot, director David Lynch picked out a branch from a ponderosa pine and had it delivered to Catherine Coulson.

“The log had just been cut, under David's close supervision, when I got it the night before shooting the pilot,” Coulson told Backstage.com in 2008. “So it was quite heavy, oozing sap.”

For the actress — who for years had leaned toward Shakespeare — it proved to be a prop that would carry her into cult status.

In a prime-time series that traded on its weirdness, quirky characters and unresolved mysteries, Coulson’s Log Lady became one of the show’s memorable, though deeply strange, roles.

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Coulson, who was reported to have been planning an appearance in the reboot of “Twin Peaks” that is currently being made for Showtime, died Monday at 71. Her death was confirmed by her agent, Mary Dangerfield. There had been reports she had been suffering from cancer.

Coulson was born Oct. 22, 1943, and raised in Southern California, the daughter of a radio producer and public relations executive. She attended Scripps College in Claremont and earned a master’s degree at San Francisco State University.

She devoted much of her career to the theater and for decades worked with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., where she lived with her husband, Marc Sirinsky. The couple had a daughter, Zoey.

Coulson befriend Lynch in the mid-1970s and worked on his breakthrough art film, the surrealistic “Eraserhead.” Though her role in the movie — a nurse — was cut, she worked behind the scenes on lighting and with the camera crew.

She appeared in and helped Lynch write “The Amputee,” a five-minute short that was made for the American Film Institute. She also worked as a camera operator or assistant on “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “Modern Romance,” “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” and other features.

But the Log Lady hurled her into into the pop-culture pantheon.

In “Twin Peaks,” which ran for two seasons in the early '90s, the hunk of ponderosa pine was a constant companion of Coulson’s character, Margaret Lanterman, the mystical woodsman's widow who claimed her log knew secrets about the town.

“My log has something to tell you,” the Log Lady tells a law enforcement officer on the show. “Do you know it?”

“I don't believe we've been introduced,” came the reply.

Coulson said she was stopped at airports, once asked to sign a Presto log and offered money by collectors who wanted the actual log.

“A surprising number of Shakespeare fans ... have also seen every episode of 'Twin Peaks,' " she told the Register-Guard of Eugene, Ore. “I wonder what the appeal is? Probably complicated plot lines — that's something Shakespeare has in common with David Lynch. And cross-dressing.”

In a statement, Lynch said he considered Coulson one of his “dearest friends.”

“Catherine was solid gold. She was always there for her friends — she was filled with love for all people — for her family — for her work,” Lynch wrote. “She was a tireless worker. She had a great sense of humor — she loved to laugh and make people laugh. She was a spiritual person — a longtime TM [transcendental meditation] meditator.

“She was the Log Lady.”

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