Olympia Dukakis, the veteran stage and screen actress whose flair for maternal roles helped her win an Oscar as Cher’s mother in the romantic comedy Moonstruck, has died aged 89.
Dukakis died on Saturday morning (local time) at her home in New York City, according to her agent, Allison Levy.
A cause of death was not immediately released, but her family said in a statement that she had been in failing health for months.
Dukakis won the Oscar for best supporting actress and Cher took home the trophy for best actress in 1988. In 1989, Dukakis’ Oscar statuette was stolen from her New Jersey home.
Dukakis, who was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, had yearned to be an actress from an early age and had hoped to study drama in college.
Her first graduate school performance was a disaster, however, as she sat wordless on the stage.
After a teacher helped cure her stage fright, she began working in summer stock theatres. In 1960, she made her off-Broadway debut and two years later had a small part in The Aspern Papers on Broadway.
After three years with a Boston regional theatre, Dukakis moved to New York and married actor Louis Zorich.
They had three children – Christina, Peter and Stefan. They decided it was too hard to raise children in New York with limited income, so they moved the family to a century-old house in Montclair, a New Jersey suburb of New York.
Dukakis’ Oscar victory kept the motherly film roles coming. She was Kirstie Alley’s mother in Look Who’s Talking and its sequel Look Who’s Talking Too, the sardonic widow in Steel Magnolias and the overbearing wife of Jack Lemmon (and mother of Ted Danson) in Dad.
But the stage was her first love.
“My ambition wasn’t to win the Oscar,” she commented after her Moonstruck win. “It was to play the great parts.”
She accomplished that in such 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.
In 2000, she was on Broadway in Martin Sherman’s one-actor play Rose, and received a Drama Desk Award nomination for the role of an 80-year-old survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.
Dukakis is survived by her children Christina, Stefan and Peter; her brother Apollo Dukakis; and four grandchildren.