The veteran stage actress also made an appearance in the film ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus’ and four times on ‘Tales From the City’ as a transgender landlady.
Olympia Dukakis, the dignified actress who won an Oscar for her supporting role in Moonstruck as Cher’s nitpicking Brooklyn mother, has died. She was 89 years old at the time.
Dukakis died in New York on Saturday, according to her brother Apollo. “She is now at rest and with her [husband] Louis after several months of declining health.”
In Herbert Ross’ Steel Magnolias (1989), she played Clairee Belcher, a woman of fiber and the elegant widowed friend of Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine), and she also played a personnel director in Working Girl (1988) and a principal in Mr. Holland’s Opus (1989). (1995).
Dukakis was a founding member of two regional theaters, the Charles Playhouse in Boston and the Whole Theater in Montclair, New Jersey, and taught drama at NYU for more than 15 years.
Louis Zorich (Paul Reiser’s father Crazy About You) died in January 2018 at the age of 93, after a 55-year marriage.
She was a first cousin of former Massachusetts governor and 1988 U.S. presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
After years toiling on the stage, Dukakis, then in her mid-fifties, turned heads as the nagging Sicilian wife and mother Rose Castorini in Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck (1987). She also won a Golden Globe and top honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review for her career-defining performance.
“My daughter was going to college on credit cards when Moonstruck hit,” she said in the 2013 documentary Olympia Dukakis: Undefined. “I didn’t know about acting, I didn’t know about anything.”
Dukakis made something of a career playing irritating moms, doing just that opposite Kirstie Alley in the three Look Who’s Talking films released in 1989, ’90 and ’93 and then taking Ted Danson to task in Dad (1989).
“The fun part is that people pass me on the street and yell lines from my movies,” she said in a 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “For Moonstruck, they say, ‘Your life is going down the toilet!’ Or from Dad, they say, ‘How much are those pork chops?’ They say, ‘Do you know who you are?’ It’s real funny.”
Mike Nichols’ long-running comedy Social Security starred Dukakis as a Jewish octogenarian (and Marlo Thomas’ mother) in 1986-87. (Jewison saw her on stage and hired her for Moonstruck after seeing her in that.)
She also starred in The Aspen Papers, Abraham Cochrane, Who’s Who in Hell, and Rose, a one-woman show about a Holocaust survivor, on Broadway.
Electra, Titus Andronicus, and Peer Gynt were among her off-Broadway credits, demonstrating her admiration for the great classical roles of the stage (the last one came oppositeStacy Keach with the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park).
Dukakis also appeared in The Memorandum and Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class, and received Obie Awards for her work in Bertolt Brecht’s A Man’s a Man and Christopher Durang’s The Marriage of Bette and Boo.
Dukakis, a three-time Emmy nominee, starred as Anna Madrigal, a transgender landlady in Armistead Maupin’s four Tales From the City miniseries/series (the most recent one premiered in June 2019 on Netflix).
When she first arrived to play the role, she asked to talk with “a human being who’s been through this,” she said in a 2015 interview with The A.V. Club.
“They found someone,” Dukakis recalled. “She came, and when she opened the door, she was, like, 6-foot-2, with hands that could wrap around a football, but a soft voice. Lovely breasts. She walks into the room, she sits down, and … she was a sex therapist, and she evidently helps people with these transitions. And I asked her, ‘What was it that you wanted so much that made it possible for you to go through this incredible journey?’
“And this is what she said to me: ‘All my life, I yearned for the friendship of women.’ And I started to cry. I couldn’t help it. I don’t know what I expected her to say, but not that. And that I knew. And I totally understood. To have your voice silenced, to not be able to be able to speak and be who you are … Who doesn’t know about that? So that’s how I was able to play Anna Madrigal.”
Olympia Dukakis was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on June 20, 1931. Her Greek immigrant father founded a drama club to perform classic Greek plays. She worked as a physical therapist to pay for her master’s in theater arts after graduating from Boston University, where she was a New England fencing champion — she was also pretty competitive at basketball, tennis, pingpong, and riflery.
Dukakis moved to New York in 1958 after receiving her degree and taught drama at NYU while seeking acting roles. She panicked during her first onstage appearance in summer stock, unable to talk for an entire act.
Her first television appearances were in episodes of The Nurses and Dr. Kildare in 1962. She played Dustin Hoffman’s mother in Peter Yates’ John and Mary (1969), and she played Joseph Bologna’s mother in Made for Each Other (1971).
Her filmography also includes Jules Dassin’s The Rehearsal (1974), Death Wish (1974), Rich Kids (1979), The Wanderers (1979), The Idolmaker (1980), Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994), Mighty Aphrodite (1995), 3 Needles (2005), Whiskey School (2005), Jesus, Mary and Joey (2005), In the Land of Women (2007), Cloudburst (2011), and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (2016).
Dukakis was a regular on the daytime drama Search for Tomorrow in the 1980s — taking the job to make ends meet when her husband was injured in a car accident and sidelined for many months — and had guest-starring stints on many TV series, including The Equalizer and Bored to Death, on which she had a torrid affair with Zach Galifianakis.
She met Zorich, a Chicago native, during an audition for an off-Broadway play. Neither got the part, but they did get each other. He gave her a 98-cent wedding ring that he purchased at Woolworth’s, and they got married at City Hall.
“I remember her eyes, she was very sexy, and I said, ‘Oh, my God, this woman …,” Zorich said in the Undefined documentary. “And she wasn’t a shrinking violet; she never was.”
Christina, Peter, and Stefan are among the survivors.