Olympia Dukakis, ‘Moonstruck,’ ‘Steel Magnolias’ Actress, Dies @ 89

Olympia Dukakis, Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for Moonstruck, died Saturday in New York City at 89, ExtraTV reports.

With Shirley MacLaine in Steel Magnolias (Image via TriStar)

The revered actress's death was confirmed by Apollo Dukakis, her brother who wrote on Facebook, "After many months of failing health she is finally at peace and with her Louis." (The post was in reference to the actress' husband of over 55 years Louis Zorich, who is well-remembered as a stage actor and for a recurring role on Mad About You, and who died in 2018 at 93.)

Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on June 20, 1931, Dukakis was first an athlete who later studied to be a physical therapist during the wake of the polio epidemic. She instead earned an MFA and focused on acting, moving to NYC in 1959 in pursuit of a career on the stage.

Dukakis would later recall only being seen for "ethnic" roles — the position of Greek-Americans in the '50s and '60s was vastly different than it is today — but for her performance in a particularly acclaimed off-Broadway production of the play Man Equals Man (1963) she won an Obie Award. In a prolific, 50-year theatrical career, Dukakis focused on classics and serious new works, and in 1973 co-founded the Whole Theater Company with her husband.

Dukakis won a second Obie for The Marriage of Bette and Boo in 1985 and was honored with a 2000 Outer Critics Circle Award for Rose, a one-woman show in which she played a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto. She described it as one of her proudest achievements in a 2020 interview with journalist Michael Cook.

With Cher in Moonstruck (Image via MGM)

Though she had minor film credits in the '60s and '70s, Dukakis won the role of her career when she played world-weary, wise and wonderfully funny Rose Castorini in Norman Jewison's acclaimed Moonstruck (1987). The Cher-Nicolas Cage romantic comedy was a smash hit, and Dukakis was awarded both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her timeless supporting performance.

When accepting her Oscar, she gave a shout-out to her cousin, Michael Dukakis, who was the 1988 Democratic nominee for president.

Achieving stardom at 56, Dukakis told The Los Angeles Times in 1991, “The fun part is that people pass me on the street and yell lines from my movies: For Moonstruck they say, ‘Your life is going down the toilet...' It’s real funny.”

Cher tweeted that she had recently called Dukakis when she was failing, remembering her by writing, "Olympia Dukakis Was an Amazing,Academy Award Winning  Actress.Olympia Played My Mom In Moonstruck,& Even Though Her Part was That Of a Suffering Wife, We ALL The Time.She Would Tell Me How MUCH She Loved Louis,Her”Handsome Talented,Husband”.I Talked To Her 3Wks Ago. Rip Dear One."

Cher also tweeted one of Moonstruck's most memorable exchanges in honor of her fallen friend:

Any list of other most memorable film appearances for Dukakis would survely include her all-out turn as Clairee Belcher in 1989's Steel Magnolias.

She often played far older than her years, including playing Joseph Bologna's mother in Made for Each Other (1971) when she was all of two and a half years his senior.

Among other film highlights, she appeared in The Idolmaker (1980), Working Girl (1988), Dad (1989), Look Who's Talking (1989), Look Who's Talking Too (1990), Look Who's Talking Now (1993), Jeffrey (1995), Mighty Aphrodite (1995), Mr. Holland's Opus (1995), The Event (2003) and Cloudburst (2011).

Following her episodic TV debut in 1962, Dukakis was a late bloomer in that medium as well, earning her first Emmy nomination for the 1991 miniseries Lucky Day, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for 1992's Sinatra, in which she played the iconic singer's mother, Dolly Sinatra.

A woman of secrets — Anna Madrigal (Image via PBS)

In 1993, Dukakis played mercurial, matriarchal Anna Madrigal, the head of an LGBTQ circle of friends and chosen family in Tales of the City. The PBS production — which dealt frankly with gay and transgender issues — was so controversial that funding of PBS was immediately hotly debated in Congress. The limited series nonetheless proved to be so popular it led to 1998's More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City (2001) and the Netflix series Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (2019), one of her very last performances.

Dukakis's memoir Ask Me Again Tomorrow: A Life in Progress was released in 2003, and in 2020 she was the subject of a feature documentary entitled Dukakis.

Dukakis spent some of her time — when she wasn't acting — teaching acting at NYU, telling The Globe & Mail in 2013 that discovering new talent was one of her joys.

“There’s such a thing as payback in this business,” she said. “People have stepped out for me. If I find somebody that has talent, I step out for him.”

Dukakis is survived by her three children with Zorich — Christina, Peter and Stefan.

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