The daughter of a US Army officer and a former Broadway dancer, Valerie Perrine was raised in various places around the world, including Japan. After briefly studying psychology, she began her show business career as a topless dancer in Las Vegas. Perrine traveled throughout Europe and lived for a time in Paris before finally settling in L.A. in the early 70s. Landing her first role as Montana Wildhack in George Roy Hill's screen adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "Slaughterhouse-Five" (1972), she was singled out for her portrayal of a voluptuous kidnapped bride of the hero (Michael Sacks). This led to her first starring role as the trampy girlfriend of race car driver Jeff Bridges in "The Last American Hero/Hard Driver" (1973). Perrine had what was perhaps her best role to date as Honey Harlowe, the drug-addicted stripper-wife of comic Lenny Bruce in Bob Fosse's biopic "Lenny" (1974). Bringing class and smarts to what could have been a stereotypical role, she proved to critics and audiences just how strong an actor she could be, given the right material. Perrine earned awards from critics groups, won an Oscar nomination as Best Actress and received the Best Actress trophy at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival.
Finding appropriate follow-up roles, however, proved challenging. With her tiny voice and full-figure, Perrine tended to be cast as the good-hearted bimbo. She reportedly chose not to play screen legend Carole Lombard in a biopic, but instead agreed to star as Carlotta Monti opposite Rod Steiger in another film biography, "W.C. and Me" (1976). The film, however, received mixed reviews and Perrine's career stalled. She was shown to much better effect, subverting the stereotype, in the supporting role of Eve Teschmacher, the moll of villain Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) in Richard Donner's "Superman" (1978), which she briefly reprised in the 1980 sequel. Her career was dealt another near fatal blow, however, when she co-starred with Bruce Jenner in the laughable "Can't Stop the Music" (1980). Most of Perrine's film appearances in the 80s and 90s have been in generally forgettable fare that has not served her particularly well; exceptions could be argued for her turn as Jack Nicholson's money-hungry wife in "The Border" (1982) and her brief appearance as Dermot Mulroney's mother in "Bright Angel" (1990).
The small screen has offered limited success, as well. Perrine first appeared on TV in the ABC movie "The Couple Takes a Wife" (1972) and had a good role as one of the showgirls in "Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women" (NBC, 1978). During the 80s, Perrine began to find better roles. She was one of the residents of "Malibu" (NBC, 1983), co-starred with Harvey Korman in the short-lived "Leo & Liz in Beverly Hills" (CBS, 1986), as one-half of a self-made New Jersey couple who settle among the rich and famous, and lent support to Elizabeth Taylor and Mark Harmon in Nicolas Roeg's TV-remake of "Sweet Bird of Youth" (NBC, 1989). She also won praise as the overbearing mother of Dr. Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) on NBC's "ER" (1995).