At 75 years old, Kathy Bates has this physical status:
After moving to New York City, Bates worked several odd jobs as well as minor stage roles while struggling to find work as an actress. At one point, she worked as a cashier at the Museum of Modern Art.
In 1971, Bates was cast in a minor role in the Miloš Forman comedy Taking Off (credited as "Bobo Bates"), her first on screen role in a feature film. Following this, she continued to struggle to find acting roles, later claiming in an interview with The New York Times that more than one casting agent told her that she wasn't sufficiently attractive to be a successful actress:
After Taking Off was released, Bates didn't work on another feature film until she appeared opposite Dustin Hoffman in Straight Time (1978). Throughout the 1970s, she continued to perform on stage. Her first Off-Broadway performance was in the 1976 production of Vanities. Bates subsequently originated the role of Lenny in the first production of Crimes of the Heart at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1979. Beginning in 1980, she appeared in Lanford Wilson's Fifth of July. In 1982, she starred in the Robert Altman-directed Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean with Karen Black and Cher. During this time, she also began working in television, starring in a variety of soap operas such as The Doctors, All My Children, and One Life to Live, as well as making guest appearances in episodes of prime-time series such as The Love Boat, Cagney & Lacey, and St. Elsewhere in the late 1970s through mid-1980s.
The New York Times wrote that, in the early 1980s, Bates "established herself as one of America's finest stage actresses". In 1983, she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Play for her role in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play 'night, Mother. The stage production ran for more than a year. She found further success on Off Broadway, in Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, for which she won an Obie Award for Best Actress in 1988. McNally specifically wrote the play for Bates. She later succeeded Amy Irving in the Off-Broadway production of The Road to Mecca in 1988. Around this time, she shifted her focus to screen acting, with roles in The Morning After (1986), and Summer Heat (1987).
Bates' performance in the 1990 horror film Misery, based on the book of the same name by Stephen King, marked her Hollywood breakthrough. The film was a commercial and critical success and her performance as Annie Wilkes was met with widespread critical adulation. Also that year, she had a role in Warren Beatty's crime film Dick Tracy (1990). The following year, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama. The American Film Institute included Annie Wilkes (as played by Bates) in their "100 Heroes and Villains" list, ranking her as the 17th most iconic villain (and sixth most iconic villainess) in film history.
Soon after, she starred in the acclaimed 1991 film Fried Green Tomatoes, based on the novel by comedic actress Fannie Flagg. For her performance in this film, she received a BAFTA Award nomination. In 1995, Bates played the title character in Dolores Claiborne, another well-received Stephen King adaptation, for which she was nominated for Best Actress at the 22nd Saturn Awards.
In 1995, Bates began working behind the screen as well, as a director, on several television series; her early directing jobs include episodes of Great Performances, Homicide: Life on the Street, and NYPD Blue.
In 1996, Bates received her first Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie, for her performance as Jay Leno's manager Helen Kushnick in HBO's The Late Shift (1996). That role also earned Bates her second Golden Globe Award win in the category of Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film and her first Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie.
Bates gained wider recognition in 1997 when she portrayed Molly Brown in James Cameron's epic romance and disaster film Titanic, based on the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. The film became the highest-grossing film of all time worldwide in 1998, and remained so for twelve years, until Avatar (2009), also written and directed by Cameron, surpassed it in 2010.
She received her second Academy Award nomination (and first in the Best Supporting Actress category) for her work as the acid-tongued political advisor Libby Holden in Primary Colors (1998), which was adapted from the book by political journalist Joe Klein. The following year, she was nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her work in the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun as well as for Outstanding Directing in a Miniseries or Movie for her work on the Dashiell Hammett-Lillian Hellman biopic Dash & Lilly. In 2000, Bates received another Emmy Award nomination for her turn as Miss Hannigan in Disney's remake of Annie (1999).
In 2002, she received her third Academy Award nomination, again in the Best Supporting Actress category, for performance as an aging free-spirited woman in About Schmidt, opposite Jack Nicholson. A scene in the film, which features Bates completely nude entering a hot tub, was noted by critics and received significant public attention. NPR called it "the scene everyone is talking about". Bates spoke about the scene in several interviews; speaking to Hello!, she said:
Throughout the 2000s, Bates worked consistently in Hollywood cinema, often playing supporting roles in number of films, such as Rumor Has It... (2005), Failure to Launch (2006), P.S. I Love You (2007), The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), and The Blind Side (2009). In 2006, she directed and co-starred in her feature film directorial debut Have Mercy (2006) with Melanie Griffith. In 2008, Bates re-teamed with her Titanic co-stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, in the romantic drama film Revolutionary Road.
During this time, she also appeared frequently on television. She starred in ten episodes of the HBO television drama series Six Feet Under, for which she received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2003. She also directed several episodes of the series. Bates received another Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, for Lifetime Television's film Ambulance Girl (2006), which she also directed.
In 2010, Bates appeared in the romantic comedy film Valentine's Day, directed by Garry Marshall. From 2010 to 2011, she had a recurring guest role on the NBC sitcom The Office as Jo Bennett. Her first lead role on a television series was in David E. Kelley's legal drama Harry's Law, which began airing on NBC on January 17, 2011, but was later cancelled on May 14, 2012. In 2011, she portrayed famed art collector Gertrude Stein in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. In 2012, Bates made a guest appearance on Two and a Half Men as the ghost of Charlie Harper on the episode "Why We Gave Up Women", which aired on April 30, 2012. This guest appearance resulted in Bates winning her first Emmy Award, in the category of Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, following nine nominations.
In 2013, she began starring in the American Horror Story series' third season, Coven, as Delphine LaLaurie, an immortal racist who is brought back into the modern world after spending years buried alive. For that role, she won her second Emmy Award, in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie. Bates claimed that Ryan Murphy, the creator of the series, "resurrected [her] career".
Bates returned for the fourth season of American Horror Story, Freak Show, this time as Ethel Darling, a bearded lady who performs in a freak show. She subsequently returned again for the fifth season, Hotel, where she played Iris, the hotel's manager. Bates returned for her fourth, and the show's sixth season, Roanoke, playing two characters—Thomasin "The Butcher" White and Agnes Mary Winstead. She received further Emmy Award nominations for each season.
On September 20, 2016, Bates received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her work in the film industry. Her star is located at 6927 Hollywood Boulevard. In 2017, Bates starred in the Netflix television series Disjointed, in which she played the character of Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, an owner of a California medical marijuana dispensary. The show aired for two seasons.
In 2018, she appeared in two films: in Xavier Dolan's critically panned arthouse film The Death and Life of John F. Donovan and as political activist Dorothy Kenyon in the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex. That year, she also guest-starred in the finale of the 11th season of the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
In 2019, Bates portrayed American politician Miriam A. Ferguson in the Netflix crime film The Highwaymen. She also starred in the Clint Eastwood biographical drama film Richard Jewell, playing the mother of the title individual. For her performance, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture, as well as her fourth Academy Award nomination (also in the Best Supporting Actress category).
In 2020, it was reported that Bates would be starring in an Irish drama film, The Miracle Club, with Maggie Smith and Laura Linney. The film's plot is being described as a "joyful and hilarious" journey of a group of riotous working-class women from Dublin, whose pilgrimage to Lourdes in France leads them to discover each other's friendship and their own personal miracles." She was cast in coming-of-age film Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret a feature adaptation of Judy Blume’s novel of the same name, directed by Kelly Fremon Craig.