Actress & AIDS Activist Zelda Rubinstein Goes Into the Light

By Tim McElreavy

January 27, 2010

Ms. Rubinstein was a very talented woman with several signature roles to her name.

Of course, Zelda played the wise psychic Tangina in the 'Poltergeist' films. She was a co star in 'Southland Tales' which starred such celebs as Justine Timberlake and Mandy Moore. My favorite role was her narration of the ABC Family show 'Scariest Places on Earth." You can still see reruns of this show on Tuesday nights on A&E, channel 32 here in Las Vegas.

In addition to her acting, Zelda also was active in human rights causes such as HIV/AIDS awareness. Starring in several advertisements geared toward gay men in 1984, Zelda risked her career in a time when celebrities weren't so vocal about this cause.

Zelda Rubinstein, the 4'3" actress best known for her role as the psychic Tangina Barrons in the 1982 film Poltergeist, died today of natural causes at the age of 76.

Ms. Rubinstein made her film debut in the 1981 Chevy Chase vehicle Under the Rainbow, in which she played one of the Munchkins on the set of the Wizard of Oz. Based on her experience in that film, the actress became energized as an activist, forming the nonprofit Michael Dunn Memorial Repertory Theater Company for little people. She also appeared in Sixteen Candles, Frances, and on the television show Picket Fences.

In 1985, Rubinstein was approached by L.A. CARES (Los Angeles Cooperative AIDS Risk-Reduction Education Service) to play the mother in a first-of-its-kind AIDS prevention campaign. In a series of television spots and print ads, she played the doting mom trying to get her gay son to "play safely."

"She was one of the very first Hollywood celebrities to speak out on HIV and AIDS," said Craig E. Thompson, executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles. "It was the first AIDS education and prevention campaign in Los Angeles and one of the very first in the United States," he added.

Ms. Rubinstein had no immediate family. There are no plans for a funeral, but a celebration of her life will be held at a later date in Los Angeles.

Watch a video interview with Ms. Rubinstein about her AIDS activism conducted by the Advocate on YouTube.