Following news of the former actress’s death, Billingsley — who played Ralphie Parker, the child protagonist of the 1983 family holiday film — paid tribute to Dillon, who died Jan. 9 at age 83.
Alongside a black-and-white photo of himself with his original A Christmas Story family, Billingsley, 51, wrote, “So very sad to hear of Melinda Dillon’s passing. Working with her on ‘A Christmas Story’ was such a privilege.”
The actor and filmmaker remembered Dillon as “kind, supportive, cool, thoughtful, giving and committed,” adding, “Her body of work demonstrated her incredible range and talent.”
“I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to call her my on-screen mother. Rest in peace, Melinda,” Billingsley concluded.
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Dillon’s death was announced through an obituary created by her family that stated she died Jan. 9. A cause of death was not released.
Before she became the matriarch of the Parker family, Dillon was an established actress on Broadway and in Hollywood. She was nominated for two Academy Awards, for her performances in Steven Spielberg‘s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Absence of Malice (1981).
She was also up for a Golden Globe in 1976, for her role in the Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory, and considered for a Tony Award with her Broadway debut in 1963’s original production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Dillon retired from acting in 2007, but not before taking on a few more major roles. After warning Ralphie he’d “shoot his eye out” with his Red Ryder BB gun, the actress went on to costar with John Lithgow in Harry and the Hendersons (1987) and appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Magnolia (1999).
Dillon also garnered additional television credits in the early 2000s with appearances in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Heartland.
In the recent direct sequel A Christmas Story Christmas — which marked Billingsley’s first time reprising his character, Ralphie, since the original film — Mrs. Parker was played by Julie Hagerty.
The film stars Billingsley as the grown-up Ralphie: a father of two and struggling writer who returns to his childhood home on Cleveland Street in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana, for the holidays after the unexpected death of his own dad, known simply as The Old Man (played by the late Darren McGavin in the first film).
Back in October, Billingsley told PEOPLE that the sequel was very much a tribute to the original cast, including Dillon’s husband in the movie, McGavin, who died in 2006, also at age 83.
“It very much is, in many ways, a love letter to the Old Man character and to Darren himself,” Billingsley said at the time. “Darren was the best. He was such a gifted actor and a great person and such a mentor to me in the shooting of the first film, and was kind of like having [another] dad.”