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Hollywood’s 4.3 inches actress who died of heart attack



Zelda Rubinstein is a diminutive actress standing at a mere 4 feet 3 inches tall. Known for her iconic role as “Tangina Barrons” in the Poltergeist film series, Rubinstein made germane contributions to the thespian industry and also has an unwavering commitment to causes close to her heart.

Zelda Rubinstein biography

Zelda Rubinstein in a movie

Zelda May Rubinstein (May 28, 1933 – January 27, 2010) was an American actress and advocate for human rights. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Jewish immigrant parents from Poland, Dolores and George Rubinstein, the younger Rubinstein was the youngest of three children. She was the sole person of short stature in her family, though she has been mistakenly referred to as a dwarf.

It was not until adulthood that Rubinstein became comfortable about her height being referred to. In a 1992 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, she shared that despite a challenging childhood, she developed strong verbal skills and learned to confront everyone confidently.

Standing at a height of just 4 feet 3 inches (1.30 m) due to a deficiency of the anterior pituitary gland, which produces growth hormone, Rubinstein spoke about the societal challenges faced by individuals of very short stature. In 2002, she remarked: “Midgets are societally handicapped. They have about two minutes to present themselves as equals—and if they don’t take advantage of that chance, then people fall back on the common assumption that ‘less’ is less.”

Rubinstein earned a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in bacteriology and joined the national sorority Phi Sigma Sigma. Later, at the age of 25, she relocated to Berkeley, California, studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and worked as a medical lab technician at blood banks.

She gained fame for her portrayal of the eccentric medium ‘Tangina Barrons” in the Poltergeist film series. In the television realm, she played “Ginny” in David E. Kelley’s Emmy Award-winning series, Picket Fences, for two seasons. Additionally, she made guest appearances on Poltergeist: The Legacy in 1996, taking on the role of the seer Christina.

Rubinstein was also recognised as the voice behind Skittles candies in their Taste the Rainbow advertising campaign. Beyond her acting career, she was known for her vocal advocacy for individuals of short stature and her early involvement in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

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Zelda Rubinstein career

Zelda Rubinstein smiling

In 1978, Rubinstein decided to embark on an acting career, enrolling in acting studies at the University of California. Her inaugural major film role was in Poltergeist. Film critic Pauline Kael, despite characterising Poltergeist as an “entertaining hash”, reserved special commendation for Rubinstein’s depiction of the psychic Tangina. Kael noted that Rubinstein “gives the movie new life and makes a large chunk of it work”.

Discussing her transition in career, she remarked: “I had no idea what I would do next, but I knew it would involve advocacy for those people who were in danger of being disenfranchised. I wanted a platform to be visible as a different person, as a representative of several varieties of differences. This is the most effective way for me to carry a message saying, ‘Yes, you can.’ I took a look at these shoulders in the mirror, and they’re pretty big. They can carry a lot of Sturm und Drang on them.”

Rubinstein continued her active involvement in both film and television, frequently taking on roles as psychic characters. Notable among these was her appearance on Jennifer Slept Here. Additionally, she lent her distinctive voice to narrate the horror television series, Scariest Places on Earth.

Rubinstein’s filmography includes appearances in Sixteen Candles, Under the Rainbow, Cages, Teen Witch, The Wildcard, Southland Tales and National Lampoon’s Last Resort. Her voice-over contributions extended to TV shows such as Hey Arnold! and The Flintstones. She made numerous guest appearances on network TV series, including Caroline in the City, Martin and Mr. Belvedere.

She portrayed “Ginny Weedon” in the TV series Picket Fences, where her character met an offbeat demise by falling into a freezer early in the third season. She also featured in an episode of Tales From The Crypt, playing the mother of a girl who had been deceased for 40 years.

Rubinstein had dual roles in Santa Barbara in 1984 and 1990. Commencing in 1999, she delved into voiceovers for television, contributing to the Fox Family reality TV show Scariest Places on Earth, commercials for movies like Lady in the Water and product promotions, including Skittles candy. She made a cameo appearance in the horror film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, in 2007. She also made another cameo appearance as herself on the Revenge of the Mummy ride at Universal Studios Florida, warning visitors about the curse of Imhotep.

In terms of humanitarian activities, Rubinstein actively engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS. She took part in a series of advertisements specifically aimed at gay men, advocating safer sex practices and raising awareness about AIDS. This commitment came with potential risks to her career, particularly given the proximity to her recent ascent to fame.

Reflecting on this choice later, she acknowledged, “I did pay a price, career-wise.” In an interview with The Advocate, she revealed, “I lost a friend to AIDS, one of the first public figures that died of AIDS.”

Rubinstein had a clear understanding that AIDS was not confined to any particular group and could affect everyone.

She expressed this sentiment, saying: “I knew it was not the kind of disease that would stay in anybody’s backyard. It would climb the fences, and get over the fences into all of our homes. It was not limited to one group of people.”

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Zelda Rubinstein movies

Zelda Rubinstein acting

Here are some of the movies and TV appearances she made:


  • Cages (2005): In this film, Rubinstein takes on the character Liz.
  • Angels with Angles (2005): Rubinstein portrayed Zelda the Angel in this 2005 film.
  • Unbeatable Harold (2006): In this film, Rubinstein played the character Bunny.
  • Southland Tales (2006): Rubinstein took on the role of Dr. Katarina Kuntzler in “Southland Tales.”
  • Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006): Rubinstein’s role in this movie was as Mrs. Collinwood.


  • Hey Arnold! (1999): Rubinstein voiced the character Patty’s Mother in one episode of this animated series.
  • The Pretender (2000): In one episode, Rubinstein played the role of a pawn shop lady in this television drama series.
  • The Flintstones: On the Rocks (2001): Rubinstein voiced the character Dr. Schwartzen Quartz in this animated television film.

Zelda Rubinstein’s net worth

Zelda Rubinstein laughing

According to reports, Zubistein had an estimated net worth of $1.6 million at the time of her demise.

Zelda Rubinstein family

Rubinstein was born to Dolores and George Rubinstein. There is no information about her immediate family.

Zelda Rubinstein age

Rubinstein was born on May 28, 1933. She died at the age of 76.

Zelda Rubinstein now

Zelda Rubinstein passed away in Los Angeles, situated in the U.S. state of California, on January 27, 2010, at the age of 76. Eric Stevens, Rubinstein’s agent for four years, disclosed that the actress had not fully recovered from a mild heart attack she had experienced several months earlier. This incident led her to become a patient at Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Los Angeles.

Stevens explained: “She had several pre-existing conditions that she had been dealing with for years, and unfortunately they began to overtake her.” Under Rubinstein’s wishes, no funeral arrangements were made.”

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