The veteran actress also appeared in ‘Steel Magnolias’,’ Mr. Holland’s Opus’ and as a transgender landlady four times on ‘Tales of the City’.
Olympia Dukakis, the worthy actress who received a supporting Oscar for her performance as Cher’s nitpicking Brooklyn mom in Moonstruck, passed away on Saturday. She was 89.
Dukakis died in New York, her brother Apollo wrote on Facebook. “After many months of ill health, she is finally at peace and with her [husband] Louis.”
The late-blooming star was also known for her turn as Clairee Belcher, a woman of fiber and the elegant widow of Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine), in Herbert Ross’ Steel Magnolias (1989), and she played a personnel director in Working Girl (1988) and a protagonist in Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995).
Away from the big screen, Dukakis taught drama atNYU for over 15 years and was a founding member of two regional theaters:
The Charles Playhouse in Boston and the Whole Theater in Montclair, New Jersey. Her 55-year-old husband, stage and character actor Louis Zorich (Paul Reiser’s father Mad About You), died in January 2018 at the age of 93.
She was a first cousin of former Massachusetts governor and 1988 United States presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
After years of toil on stage, Dukakis, then in his mid-1950s, drew attention as Norman Jewison’s nagging Sicilian wife and mother Rose Castorini in Moonstruck (1987).
She also won a Golden Globe and top award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review for her career-defining achievements.
“My daughter went to college with credit cards when Moonstruck hit,” she said in the 2013 documentary Olympia Dukakis: Undefined. “I didn’t know anything about acting, I didn’t know anything.”
Dukakis made a bit of a career playing annoying moms, right opposite Kirstie Alley in the three Look Who’s Talking films released in 1989, ’90 and ’93, then putting Ted Danson to work in Dad (1989).
“The nice thing 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 running down the toilet! Or from Daddy, “How many are those chops?” They say, “Do you know who you are?” It’s really funny. ”
In 1986-87, Dukakis starred on Broadway as a Jewish eighty-year-old (and the mother of Marlo Thomas) in Mike Nichols’ long-running comedy Social Security.
(Jewison saw her onstage in it and then hired her for Moonstruck.) She also appeared on the big stage in The Aspen Papers, Abraham Cochrane, Who’s Who in Hell and in the one-woman show Rose, about a survivor of the Holocaust.
She revered the theatre’s great classic roles, echoed in off-Broadway credits such as Electra, Titus Andronicus, and Peer Gynt (the latter came opposite Stacy Keach at the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park).
Dukakis also won Obie Awards for her work in Bertolt Brecht’s A Man’s a Man and Christopher Durang’s The Marriage of Bette and Boo and starred in The Memorandum and Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class.
Her last stage role in New York was as Flora Goforth, the wealthy widow who spends her last days in her seaside Italian villa with a seductive young man of mystery in Roundabout Theater Company’s 2011 revival of Tennessee Williams ‘rarely-produced play The Milk Train Doesn’ t Stop here again.
Three-time Emmy-nominated, Dukakis played transgender landlady Anna Madrigal in Armistead Maupin’s four miniseries / series Tales of the City (the most recent premiered on Netflix in June 2019).
In a 2015 interview with The A.V. Club, she said she asked to speak to “a human who went through this” when she arrived to play the character the first time. “They found someone,” Dukakis recalls.
“She came, and when she opened the door, she was about six feet tall, with hands that could wrap around a football, but a soft voice. Nice breasts.
She walks into the room, sits down and … She was a sex therapist, and she apparently helps people with these transitions.
And I asked her, “What did you want so badly that it enabled you to take this incredible journey?” And this is what she said to me: ‘All my life I have longed 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 I knew that. And I understood it completely. To silence your voice, to not be able to speak and be who you are … Who doesn’t know? So that’s how I got to play Anna Madrigal.
Olympia Dukakis was born on June 20, 1931 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Her father, a Greek immigrant, founded a theater club to perform classical Greek plays.
After graduating from Boston University, where she was a screen champion in New England – she was also quite good at basketball, tennis, ping pong, and riflery – she worked as a physical therapist to earn money to earn her masters in theater arts.
After graduating, Dukakis came to New York in 1958 and taught drama at NYU while playing a role. In summer stock, she panicked during her first performance on stage, as she couldn’t speak for an entire act.
Her first TV appearances came in 1962 episodes of The Nurses and Dr. Kildare. In Peter Yates’ John and Mary (1969) she portrayed Dustin Hoffman’s mother, and she was a mother again, this time to Joseph Bologna, in Made for Each Other (1971).
Her body of work also includes Jules Dassin’s The Rehearsal (1974), Death Wish (1974), Rich Kids (1979), The Wanderers (1979), The Idolmaker (1980), The Cemetery Club (1993), Naked Gun 33 1/3:
The Final Insult (1994) – in a cameo as himself on a chaotic Academy Awards broadcast – Mighty Aphrodite (1995), 3 Needles (2005), Whiskey School (2005), Jesus, Mary and Joey (2005), In the Land of Women (2007), Cloudburst (2011) and The Infiltrator (2016).
Dukakis was a regular on the 1980s daytime drama Search for Tomorrow – took the job to make ends meet when her husband was injured in a car accident and sidelined for months – and guest-starred on many TV series, including The Equalizer and Bored to Death, on which she had a scorching affair with Zach Galifianakis.
She met Zorich, a Chicago native, while auditioning 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 had bought from Woolworth, and they were married at City Hall. “I remember her eyes, she was very sexy, and I said, ‘Oh my God, this woman …’ said Zorich in the Undefined documentary. ‘And she wasn’t a shrinking violet; she never was.
‘ Survivors are their children, Christina, Peter and Stefan.