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The youngest of three children, Matlin was only 18 months old when an illness permanently removed all hearing in her right ear, and 80 percent of the hearing in her left ear, making her legally deaf.Matlin's hard-working parents chose to educate Marlee in their community rather than sending her to a special school.She rejects learning to lip-read and to talk, choosing communicate through sign language alone.As critic Roger Ebert said, "She holds her own against the powerhouse she's acting with, carrying scenes with a passion." For her work on the film, Matlin won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1986.Around this time, Matlin branched out in a new direction, fulfilling a longtime dream."When I was 11, I knew that I wanted to write a kid's book and tell the world what it was like being deaf," she explained to Exceptional Parent magazine.The show premiered in the fall of 1991, and ran for two seasons. On the big screen, Matlin had a supporting role in 1992's The Linguini Incident, a comedy about a restaurant crime paper.While filming the show, Matlin met law enforcement officer Kevin Grandalski. She then scored the lead in the 1993 thriller Hear No Evil, playing a deaf personal trainer being stalked by a corrupt cop (played by Martin Sheen) in pursuit of a missing rare coin.
In 1993, Matlin demonstrated her comedic abilities with her guest appearance as Jerry Seinfeld's lip-reading romantic interest on the hit sitcom Seinfeld. It just happens that I am deaf; it's time for me to explore something different," she told People magazine.
Moving on to her own television series, Matlin starred as an assistant district attorney in Reasonable Doubts.
Her character, Tess, teamed up with a detective (played by Mark Harmon) who understood sign language.
It was a remarkable accomplishment for a 20-year-old actress in her first film role—a feat that may also have been difficult for her to savor at the time.
Matlin had been at the Betty Ford Center when she learned of her Academy Award nomination, receiving treatment for a substance abuse problem.