Olympia Dukakis, the veteran stage and screen actress whose flair for maternal functions helped her win an Oscar as Cher’s mother from the romantic comedy “Moonstruck,” has died. She was 89.
Dukakis died Saturday morning in her home in nyc, according to Allison Levy, her agent at Innovative Artists. A cause of death wasn’t immediately released.
Dukakis won her Oscar via a sudden chain of circumstances, starting with writer Nora Ephron’s recommendation that she play Meryl Streep’s mom in the movie version of Ephron’s book”Heartburn.” Dukakis got the job, but her scenes were cut out of the movie. To make it up to her, director Mike Nichols cast her into his hit play”Social Security.” Director Norman Jewison watched her in that role and cast her in”Moonstruck.”
She referred to her 1988 triumph as”the year of the Dukakii” because it was the year Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, her cousin, was the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. At the ceremony, she held her Oscar high on her head and called out:”OK, Michael, let us go!”
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Dukakis, who had been born in Lowell, Massachusetts, had yearned to become an actress from an early age and had hoped to study drama in college. Her Greek immigrant parents insisted she pursue a more practical education, so that she studied physical therapy at Boston University on a scholarship by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.
After getting her bachelor’s degree, she worked at an understaffed hospital at Marmet, West Virginia, and in the Hospital for Contagious Diseases in Boston.
However, the lure of the theater eventually led her to study drama at Boston University.
It was a shocking change, she told an aide in 1988, imagining that she had gone from the serene world of science into one where pupils routinely shouted at the teachers.
“I thought they were all nuts,” she explained. “It had been wonderful.”
Her initial graduate school performance was a tragedy, however, as she sat wordless on the point.
Following a teacher helped cure her stage fright, she started working in summer stock theaters. Back in 1960, she made her off-Broadway debut and two years later had a small role in”The Aspen Papers” on Broadway.
Following three years with a Boston regional theatre, Dukakis moved into New York and married celebrity Louis Zorich.
During their first years of union, performing jobs were scarce, and Dukakis was employed as a bartender, waitress and other jobs.
She and Zorich had three kids — Christina, Peter and Stefan. They determined it was too hard to raise children in New York with restricted income, so they moved the family to some century-old home in Montclair, a New Jersey suburb of New York.
Her Oscar victory kept the motherly film roles coming. She had been Kirstie Alley’s mother in”Look Who’s Talking” and its sequel”Look Who’s Talking Too,” the sardonic widow in”Steel Magnolias” along with the eldest spouse of Jack Lemmon (and mom of Ted Danson) in”Dad.”
Her recent projects included the 2019 TV miniseries”Tales of the City” and the upcoming film”to not Forgot.”
However, the point was her first love.
“My dream was not to win the Oscar,” she remarked after her”Moonstruck” win. “It was to play with the great parts.”
She accomplished that in these New York productions as Bertolt Brecht’s”Mother Courage and Her Children,” Eugene O’Neill’s”Long Day’s Journey into Night” and Tennessee Williams'”The Rose Tattoo.”
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For two years she conducted the Whole Theater Company in Montclair, New Jersey, specializing in antique dramas.
While her passion lay in stage, a line from her Oscar-winning performance as Rose nevertheless seemed fitting:”I just want you to know no matter what you’re doing, you are gonna die, just like everybody else.”