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‘Friday the 13th’ Killer Betsy Palmer Dies at 88

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DANBURY, Conn. — Actress Betsy Palmer, who kicked off her career as a sweet-talking panelist on TV game shows in the 1950s and went on to play a mother-turned-murderer in “Friday the 13th,” has died.

Palmer, 88, died Friday of natural causes at a hospice care center near her home in Danbury, Connecticut, manager Brad Lemack said in a statement.

Her lengthy television and film career spanned more than five decades, starting with a number of high-profile roles in the 1950s, including a stint as the original letter turner on “Wheel of Fortune,” a regular role as a panelist on the prime-time TV game show “I’ve Got a Secret” and a role as contributor on NBC’s “The Today Show.”

She drew a new generation of fans, her manager said, with her role as Mrs. Voorhees in the 1980 cult classic “Friday the 13th.”

It’s a role Palmer once said she’d only accepted because she was convinced no one would see it — and because she needed the money for a new car.

The day before she got a call about the film, her Mercedes broke down on the Connecticut turnpike. She quickly set her sights on a new one that would cost $10,000.

The offer for the film would pay her exactly that, her manager’s statement said, “leading to a sporty new vehicle and a revitalized career.”

Even though she wasn’t originally a fan of the script and didn’t want to perform in a horror film, Palmer once said she appreciated the chance to change her image after playing so many wholesome roles on screen.

“The image always was of me was that I was this girl next door, and of course I’ve always said that there wasn’t a gal that ever lived next door to me that I wanted to be like,” Palmer recalled in “Return to Crystal Lake,” a documentary about the making of the film. “I was always trying to prove that I wasn’t the girl next door.”

Television and film work brought Palmer fame and notoriety, her manager said, but performing onstage brought her “the greatest professional joy.”

Her credits on Broadway included “Roar Like a Dove,” “Cactus Flower” and “The Eccentricities of a Nightingale.”

She’s survived by her daughter, Melissa Merendino, her manager said.