Olympia Dukakis, a character actress best known for her Oscar-winning supporting role in Norman Jewison’s “Moonstruck” and for her role as the wealthy widow in “Steel Magnolias,” has died. She was 89.
Dukakis’ brother, Apollo Dukakis, confirmed his death in a Facebook post and wrote: “My beloved sister, Olympia Dukakis, died this morning in New York City. After many months of failing health, she is finally at peace and with her Louis. ”
Her talent agent, Allison Levy, also confirmed the actress’ death to NBC News.
Dukakis was 56 when she came to prominence overnight thanks to her Oscar-winning tour in “Moonstruck,” where she starred with an extraordinary comic ethnic gusto characteristic of the film as a whole, the mother of Cher’s character. The Washington Post praised Dukakis for praise: Cher and Nicolas Cage are “backed by an equally skewed cast of fantastic supporting actors – especially Olympia Dukakis, whose role as Loretta’s world-weary mother Rose is expected to garner Oscar attention.”
She referred to her victory in 1988 as “the year of Dukakii” because it was also the year the Massachusetts government Michael Dukakis, her cousin, was the Democratic presidential candidate. At the ceremony, she held her Oscar high above her head and shouted, “OK, Michael, let’s go!”
Dukakis, who also did a lot of TV work, was nominated for three Oscars, first for the 1991 TV movie “Lucky Day”, the second time for “Armistead Maupins More Tales of the City” in 1998 and the third time in 1999 for miniseries “Joan of Arc.”
Probably made before her Oscar changed her fortune, Mike Nichols’ “Working Girl” Dukakis returned to the kind of role she had had regularly throughout much of her career: She was 12th credited for her role as HR director.
The next year, however, she was third billed behind John Travolta and Kirstie Alley in the baby comedy “Look Who’s Talking,” in which she played the pregnant alley mother in a way reminiscent of her work in “Moonstruck.” She returned to the 1990 sequel.
Herbert Ross’ 1989 hit “Steel Magnolias” starring Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine and Dukakis drew women of all ages with her effective sentimentality and even more effective one-liners, but Rolling Stone said: “For real fun, stick with MacLaine, as the city’s crank and Dukakis as the wealthy widow who gives her distraction; they are invaluable. ”
The actress starred alongside Diane Ladd and Ellen Burstyn in Bill The Duke-directed 1993 film “The Cemetery Club,” about three Jewish women who all find themselves widowed within a year and have to reconstruct their lives with Dukakis’ character stinging and strong will.
Dukakis was part of the Greek choir, which was either a charming conceit or a wicked one, depending on who you ask, in Woody Allen’s 1995 romantic comedy “Mighty Aphrodite”, in which the choir comments on the infidelity of the Allen character. Also that year, she appeared as the skeptical, hard-nosed in sentimental Richard Dreyfuss vehicle “Mr. Holland’s Opus, “and as the mother of a gay man in the AIDS drama” Jeffrey. “
The next year she had a small role in the Danish author Bille August’s spiritually based time film “Jerusalem”. The actor also had a small but strong role in the 2005 father-son road film “The Thing About My Folks” starring Peter Falk and Paul Reiser.
In 2006, Dukakis was part of the ensemble cast of “The Great New Wonderful,” a series of vignettes about life in New York City a year after the 9/11 attacks, and she did excellent work in Sarah Polley’s Alzheimer’s drama “Away From Her , ”Starring Julie Christie, in which Dukakis’ character reveals an unwaveringly realistic view of a difficult situation – her husband is also an Alzheimer’s patient.
She played a senile grandmother in Jon Kasdan’s “In the Women of Land” starring Adam Brody, Kristen Stewart and Meg Ryan. But much more interesting was writer-director Thomas Fitzgerald’s 2011 film “Cloudburst,” in which Dukakis starred alongside Brenda Fricker as a lesbian couple traveling to Canada to get married. Variety said: “Dukakis surpasses even her most memorable past twists as Stella, the irresistible old lady determined to free her lover free.”
Her television work included playing Anna Madrigal, the flamboyant matriarch who presides over an apartment building in San Francisco, in HBO’s 1993 “Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City” and the 1998 sequel “Armistead Maupin’s More Tales of the City,” which she drew an Emmy nomination; and 2001’s third post, “Further Tales of the City.”
Among the many TV movies in which Dukakis appeared was HBO and the BBC’s “The Last of the Blonde Bombshells” (2000) starring Judi Dench and Ian Holm, focusing on the reunion of a group of women who formed an orchestra in London during World War II. .
Dukakis was a series regularly on the short CBS sitcom “Center of the Universe” from 2004 with John Goodman and Jean Smart in the lead roles. She also guest-starred in several television series, delivering voices on “Frasier” and “The Simpsons,” appearing on “Numbers”; “Law & Order: SVU,” as defense attorney; and HBO detective comedy “Bored to Death.”
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, Dukakis graduated from Boston University and studied acting with Peter Kass in Boston.
Dukakis’ first experience on Broadway was as a 1962 study on the original play “The Aspern Papers”, written by Michael Redgrave based on a story by Henry James and starring Maurice Evans and Wendy Hiller. Dukakis won an Obie in 1963 for his work Off Broadway in Bertolt Brechlt’s “Man Equals Man.” She hit the stage in 1964 in the one-nighter “Abraham Cochrane.” She returned to Broadway in 1974 in Peter Ustinov’s “Who’s Who in Hell,” but its run also proved short. Much more successful was her 1986-87 run in Andrew Bergman’s “Social Security,” directed by Mike Nichols and starring Ron Silver, Marlo Thomas and Joanna Gleason. In 2000, she appeared on Broadway in the one-woman show “Rose,” in which she played an 80-year-old Jewish woman in Miami Beach who speaks to audiences in her life, including her experiences in the Holocaust.
She made her TV debut in 1962 in an episode of “The Doctors and the Nurses”, which was also a guest on “Dr. Kildare” the same year.The actress debuted on the big screen in the 1964 film “Twice a Man”. for the next 10 years she had a number of small, often uncredited roles in films, including “Death Wish.” In Peter Yates’ 1969 film “John and Mary” starring Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow, Dukakis Hoffman played the character’s mother; also a supporting role in 1971’s “Made for Each Other” starring Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna.
Dukakis was one of the stars of a 1974 political film by writer-director Jules Dassin called “The Rehearsal” about the massacre of students protesting the ruling junta in Greece; many famous people were involved in the film, including Laurence Olivier, Arthur Miller, Melina Mercouri, Maximilian Schell and Arthur Millet, but when the film ended, the junta fell and it was never publicly seen in this country until decades later. In 1975, the actor appeared in a “Great Performances” presentation of a production of Chekhov’s “The Seagull”, which also played Frank Langella, Blythe Danner and Lee Grant. She had supporting roles in Philip Kaufman’s “The Wanderers” in 1979 and in Taylor Hackford’s “The Idolmaker” in 1980. But despite many years of earning in film, television and on stage, the actress did not break through until “Moonstruck” in 1987.
Much later, Dukaki’s master classes taught acting throughout the United States and elsewhere. In July 2020, a documentary about her life titled “Olympia” was released in the United States
Dukakis’ husband, actor Louis Zorich, died in 2018. She is survived by her daughter Christina Zorich, an actress; and sons Peter and Stefan Zorich.