Lange made her professional film debut in 1976's King Kong, beating out actresses Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn for the role of damsel in distress.
Despite being a box-office success – it became the fifth-highest-grossing film of 1976 – and receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects, the film and her performance were widely panned.
She has two older sisters, Ann and Jane, and a younger brother, George.
Due to the nature of her father's professions, her early home life was chaotic.
Rafelson paid Lange a visit in upstate New York, where she was doing summer stock theater, and has famously recounted how he watched the budding actress conversing on the telephone for half an hour before their meeting when he decided that he had found the lead for his film.
After his meeting with Lange, he wrote her name down on a piece of paper, placed it in an envelope, and sealed it.
Lange was discovered by producer Dino De Laurentiis while modeling part-time for the Wilhelmina modelling agency.
Her father, Albert John Lange (1913–1989), was a teacher and traveling salesman, and her mother, Dorothy Florence (née Sahlman; 1913–1998), was a housewife.In 1995, Lange became the second actress in Oscar history, after Meryl Streep, to win Best Actress after winning Best Supporting Actress; an achievement that was repeated nearly 20 years later by Cate Blanchett in 2014.In 2010, she won her first Primetime Emmy Award for her portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' famed aunt, Big Edie, in HBO's Grey Gardens (2009).Between 20, she won her first Screen Actors Guild Award, fifth Golden Globe Award, and second and third Emmy Awards for her performances in the first and third seasons of FX's horror anthology series American Horror Story (2011–2015).In 2016, Lange won her first Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Lead Actress in a Play and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play for her critically acclaimed performance in the Broadway revival of Long Day's Journey into Night.