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Olympia Dukakis, Oscar-winning Moonstruck actress, dies at 89

Olympia Dukakis, a character actress known for her Oscar-winning supporting role in Norman Jewison’s “Moonstruck” and for her role as a wealthy widow in “Steel Magnolias” has passed away. She was 89 years old.

Dukakis’ brother Apollo Dukakis confirmed his death in a Facebook post, writing: “My beloved sister, Olympia Dukakis, passed away this morning in New York. After several 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 rose to prominence overnight thanks to her Oscar-winning turn in “Moonstruck,” in which she starred, with extraordinary comedic ethnic enthusiasm characteristic of the film as a whole, the character’s mother. from Cher. The Washington Post singled out Dukakis for their praise: Cher and Nicolas Cage are “backed by an equally eccentric cast of wonderful supporting players – especially Olympia Dukakis, whose role as world-weary Loretta’s mother Rose is expected to play. get Oscar’s attention.

She called her 1988 victory “the year of the Dukakii” because it was also the year Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, her cousin, was the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. At the ceremony, she held her Oscar above her head and shouted, “OK, Michael, let’s go!”

Dukakis, who has also done a lot of television work, has been nominated three times for the Oscars, first for the 1991 TV movie “Lucky Day”, the second time for “Armistead Maupin’s More Tales of the City” in 1998 and the third time in 1999 for the miniseries “Joan of Arc”.

Likely made before her Oscar changed her fortune, Mike Nichol’s “Working Girl” returned Dukakis to the kind of role she had had consistently for much of her career: She was credited 12th for her role as personnel manager. .

The following year, however, she was third, behind John Travolta and Kirstie Alley, in the baby comedy “Look Who’s Talking,” in which she played pregnant mother Alley in a way reminiscent of her work in ” Moonstruck ”. She returned for the 1990 sequel.

Herbert Ross’s 1989 hit “Steel Magnolias,” starring Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine and Dukakis, drew women of all ages with its effective sentimentality and even more effective understudies, but Rolling Stone said, “For real fun, stay with MacLaine as the crank of the town and Dukakis as the rich widow who drives her to distraction; they are priceless.

The actress starred with Diane Ladd and Ellen Burstyn in the film “The Cemetery Club” directed by Bill Duke in 1993, about three Jewish women who all find themselves widowed within a year and must rebuild their lives, with the character of thorny Dukakis. and voluntary.

Dukakis was part of the Greek choir who was either charming or unsightly vanity, depending on who you ask, in Woody Allen’s 1995 romantic comedy “Mighty Aphrodite,” in which the choir comments on Allen’s character’s infidelity. That year, too, she emerged as the main skeptic and intransigent of Richard Dreyfuss’ sentimental vehicle “Mr. Holland’s Opus ”, and as the mother of a gay man in the AIDS drama“ Jeffrey ”.

The following year she had a small role in Danish author Bille August’s spiritual period film “Jerusalem”. The actress also had a small but powerful role in the 2005 father-son road movie “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 vignette series about life in New York City a year after the 9/11 attacks, and she did a great job in the drama Dukakis. Sarah Polley’s Alzheimer’s ‘Away From Elle’, starring Julie Christie, in which the character of Dukakis reveals an unshakably 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 Land of Women”, 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 with Brenda Fricker as a lesbian couple who travel to Canada to get married. Variety said, “Dukakis surpasses even her most memorable previous turns as Stella, the irrepressible old lady determined to free her lover.

Her television work included the role of Anna Madrigal, the flamboyant matriarch who presides over a building in San Francisco, in HBO’s “Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City” in 1993 and in the 1998 sequel “Armistead Maupin’s More Tales. of the City ”, for which she drew an Emmy Nomination; and the third entry from 2001 “Other Tales from the City”.

Among the many TV movies Dukakis has appeared in was HBO and BBC’s “The Last of the Blonde Bombshells” (2000), starring Judi Dench and Ian Holm and focusing on reuniting a group of women. who formed an orchestra in London during World War II. .

Dukakis was a series regular on the brief 2004 CBS sitcom “Center of the Universe,” starring John Goodman and Jean Smart. She has also appeared in numerous television series, providing vocals on “Frasier” and “The Simpsons” and appearing on “Numbers”; “Law & Order: SVU”, as a defense lawyer; and the HBO crime comedy “Bored to Death”.

Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, Dukakis graduated from Boston University and studied theater with Peter Kass in Boston.

Dukakis’ first experience on Broadway was as an understudy in 1962 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 Off Broadway work in Bertolt Brechlt’s “Man Equals Man”. She took the stage in 1964 on the night “Abraham Cochrane”. She returned to Broadway in 1974 in Peter Ustinov’s Who’s Who in Hell, but her run was also short. Much more successful was his 1986-87 run in Andrew Bergman’s “Social Security”, directed by Mike Nichols and also starring Ron Silver, Marlo Thomas and Joanna Gleason. In 2000, she starred on Broadway in the solo show “Rose,” in which she played an 80-year-old Jewish woman in Miami Beach who speaks to audiences about her life, including her experiences of the Holocaust.

She made her television debut in 1962 in an episode of “Doctors and Nurses”, also a guest on “Dr. Kildare ”the same year. The actress made her big screen debut in the 1964 short “Twice a Man”. Over the next 10 years, she had a number of small, often uncredited roles in films including “Death Wish”. In the 1969 Peter Yates film “John and Mary”, starring Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow, Dukakis played the mother of Hoffman’s character; she also had a supporting role in 1971’s “Made for Each Other”, with Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna.

Dukakis was one of the stars of a 1974 political film by screenwriter-director Jules Dassin titled “The Repetition”, about the massacre of students protesting against 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 by the time the film was finished the junta fell and he was never seen publicly in this country except decades later. In 1975, the actress appeared in a “Great Performances” presentation of a production of “The Seagull” by Chekhov which also starred 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 years of earning credits in film, television and on stage, the actress only pierced “Moonstruck” in 1987.

Much later, Dukakis taught theater master classes in the United States and elsewhere. In July 2020, a documentary about his life titled “Olympia” was released in the United States.

Dukakis’ husband, actor Louis Zorich, passed away in 2018. She is survived by her daughter Christina Zorich, actress; and his sons Peter and Stefan Zorich.

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