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Flashback: See Lari White’s Pivotal Scene in Tom Hanks’ ‘Cast Away’

Singer-actress who died Tuesday after battling cancer appeared in the 2000 film

When singer Lari White broke through in 1994 with her second RCA album, Wishes, the Top Ten single “That’s My Baby” was the highest-charting hit by a female newcomer that year in a field crowded with male acts. But along with her run of three consecutive Top Tens, including “Now I Know” and “That’s How You Know (When You’re in Love),” White’s formidable résumé included appearances on Broadway (playing June Carter cash in Ring of Fire, based on the life of Johnny Cash), in television films (2004’s No Regrets, the first-ever original film to air on the Lifetime network), and on the big screen, with a part in 2010’s Country Strong starring Tim McGraw and Gwyneth Paltrow.

But the most indelible movie appearance by White – who died Tuesday at age 52 after battling cancer – was also one of her shortest: opposite Tom Hanks in a pivotal scene in the 2000 blockbuster Cast Away.

The film centers on Hanks’ character, FedEx executive Chuck Noland, who crashes on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific, along with several FedEx packages from the plane (including one very famous volleyball named Wilson). With the exception of one package, he opens them all to use during his ordeal. After he returns to civilization, he travels to Canadian, Texas, to deliver the unopened package – which has a pair of angel wings depicted on it – to a woman named Bettina Peterson. Not finding her at home, he leaves it at her doorstep with a note telling her it had saved his life. He then finds himself at a metaphorical and literal crossroads as a woman in a pickup truck (White, playing Bettina) drives up to explain where each of the roads leads. As she drives away, he spots a pair of angel wings painted on the back of the truck. Had it not been a scene in a film, the entire sequence could have made for a compelling country song, something White no doubt understood and found useful in her performance.

“I see acting and songwriting as very closely related,” she told Digital Journal in 2016. “It’s very similar to creating a voice in a character in a song.”

The process by which White eventually secured her Cast Away role also sounds like something from a movie – or a country song. According to an item by syndicated country-music columnist Paulette Flowers in 2000, when the film’s producers were considering casting White in the film, they asked her to immediately send an audition tape. White didn’t have one, so she recruited her husband, songwriter Chuck Cannon, to videotape her reading lines before transferring the audition to another VHS tape to overnight to Hollywood. They nearly missed the shipping deadline, however, until a helpful FedEx agent recognized White and expedited her tape. (For his efforts, the agent got an autograph from White.)

After the film, for which Hanks earned an Oscar nomination, White heard from the actor again, but not for an acting role. She told the Tennessean in 2001 that the star, who had launched his own record label, PlayTone, after the success of his musical film That Thing You Do!, was interested in signing her to work on a project. She was starting her own label, Skinny White Girl Records, at the time, and declined. Her first release on her label, 2004’s Green Eyed Soul, was singled out by the London Times as the best soul album of the year.

The passing of White (who was also an in-demand vocal coach and author, and won three Grammys for contributions to The Apostle soundtrack and the bluegrass-gospel compilations Amazing Grace and Amazing Grace 2) prompted an outpouring of remembrances from friends as diverse as the Oak Ridge Boys and Tony-winning Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda. The Hamilton creator wrote on Twitter, “Gutted by this news. Taught alongside her in the ASCAP Songwriters’ program one summer – you’ve never met a kinder, more talented songwriter.”

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