Renée Zellweger just achieved something Judy Garland never did: She won an Oscar.
The 50-year-old actress took home the best actress Academy Award on Sunday night for her bravura portrayal of the showbiz legend in Judy, which depicts the final months of Garland’s tumultuous life. In her acceptance speech, Zellweger called the film “one of the most special collaborations and meaningful experiences of my life.”
Over her 45-year-career, Garland was only awarded one special honorary Oscar—an Academy Juvenile Award for her role in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz—although she was nominated twice. Zellweger addressed the historical lack of recognition for Garland on Sunday night. “Judy Garland did not receive this honor in her time,” she said. “I am certain that this moment is an extension of the celebration of her legacy that began on our film set, and is also representative of…her legacy of unique exceptionalism and inclusivity and generosity of spirit, and it transcends any one artistic achievement.”
Sixty-five years ago, Garland was the front-runner to receive an Academy Award, which would have been her first, for the 1954 adaptation of A Star Is Born. The film had been promoted as her comeback after years away from Hollywood (much like Judy was, for Zellweger), but she lost out to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl. In a telegram to Garland the next day, Groucho Marx declared it “the biggest robbery since Brinks.” The Oscar loss slowed her film career down considerably. Garland appeared in only three more films, including Judgment at Nuremberg, for which she was nominated for best supporting actress in 1961. (She lost to Rita Moreno for West Side Story.)
The film Judy picks up Garland’s life seven years later, when she performed a notorious run of shows in London in the throes of substance abuse and in a desperate financial state. Zellweger told that she was “immediately curious” about Judy when she first read the script, “because I wasn’t familiar with the circumstances Judy was grappling with in this final chapter of her life, and I wanted to understand better.”
Zellweger previously won a best supporting actress Oscar for 2003’s Cold Mountain and, prior to Judy, had taken a six-year hiatus from acting.