Oscar winning actress Olympia Dukakis dies aged 89

Oscar winning actress Olympia Dukakis has died aged 89 after months of failing health. 

Dukakis, who starred in Moonstruck and Steel Magnolias, died at her home in New York City on Saturday morning. 

Her cause of death has not been revealed. 

‘My beloved sister, Olympia Dukakis, passed away this morning in New York City. After many months of failing health she is finally at peace and with her Louis,’ her brother Apollo said in a statement.

Her husband of 56 years, Louis Zorich, died in 2018. 

She is survived by her three children: Christina, Peter and Stefan.  

Throughout her decorated career, Dukakis acted in more than 130 theater productions, 60 films and 50 TV series.  

Oscar winning actress Olympia Dukakis has died aged 89 after months of failing health. She died on Saturday morning at her New York City home

Oscar winning actress Olympia Dukakis has died aged 89 after months of failing health. She died on Saturday morning at her New York City home

Oscar winning actress Olympia Dukakis has died aged 89 after months of failing health. She died on Saturday morning at her New York City home

Dukakis, who is pictured above with Cher in 1989, acted in more than 130 theater productions, 60 films and 50 TV series throughout her career

Dukakis, who is pictured above with Cher in 1989, acted in more than 130 theater productions, 60 films and 50 TV series throughout her career

Dukakis, who is pictured above with Cher in 1989, acted in more than 130 theater productions, 60 films and 50 TV series throughout her career

Dukakis won an Oscar for her role as Rose in the 1987 film Mooonstruck where she starred as Cher’s mother. 

She was a Golden Globe nominee for the 1992 miniseries biopic Sinatra and also received Emmy Award nominations for Lucky Day, More Tales and the City and Joan of Arc. 

Dukakis was also a decorated state actress having performed in more than 100 Broadway and off-Broadway productions. 

She was given a Hollywood Walk of Fame star back in 2013.  

Dukakis won her Oscar through a surprising chain of circumstances, beginning with author Nora Ephron’s recommendation that she play Meryl Streep’s mother in the film version of Ephron’s book ‘Heartburn.’ 

Dukakis got the role, but her scenes were cut from the film. To make it up to her, director Mike Nichols cast her in his hit play ‘Social Security.’ Director Norman Jewison saw her in that role and cast her in ‘Moonstruck.’ 

She won the Oscar for best supporting actress and Cher took home the trophy for best actress. 

She referred to her 1988 win as ‘the year of the Dukakii’ because it was also the year Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, her cousin, went up against George H.W. Bush as a the Democrat candidate in the 1988 presidential election.

Her cousin is former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who went up against George H.W. Bush as a the Democrat candidate in the 1988 presidential election.

At the ceremony, she held her Oscar high over her head and called out: ‘OK, Michael, let’s go!’ 

Born in Lowell, Massachusetts on June 20, 1931, Dukakis had yearned to be an actress from an early age.

Her had parents immigrated to the United States from southern Greece. She and her brother Apollo grew up in New England as first-generation Greek-Americans.

Her parents insisted she pursue a more practical education, so she studied physical therapy at Boston University on a scholarship from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.   

Dukakis won an Oscar for her role as Rose in the 1987 film Mooonstruck (above) where she starred as Cher's mother

Dukakis won an Oscar for her role as Rose in the 1987 film Mooonstruck (above) where she starred as Cher's mother

Dukakis won an Oscar for her role as Rose in the 1987 film Mooonstruck (above) where she starred as Cher’s mother

Dukakis is pictured above with Dolly Parton in the 1989 film Steel Magnolias

Dukakis is pictured above with Dolly Parton in the 1989 film Steel Magnolias

Dukakis is pictured above with Dolly Parton in the 1989 film Steel Magnolias

Following Moonstruck, Dukakis went on to star alongside Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Dolly Parton and Darryl Hannah in Steel Magnolias

Following Moonstruck, Dukakis went on to star alongside Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Dolly Parton and Darryl Hannah in Steel Magnolias

Following Moonstruck, Dukakis went on to star alongside Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Dolly Parton and Darryl Hannah in Steel Magnolias

After earning her bachelor’s degree, she worked at an understaffed hospital in Marmet, West Virginia, and at the Hospital for Contagious Diseases in Boston.

But the lure of the theater eventually led her to study drama at Boston University. 

It was a shocking change, she told an interviewer in 1988, noting that she had gone from the calm world of science to one where students routinely screamed at the teachers.

‘I thought they were all nuts,’ she said. ‘It was wonderful.’

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 theaters.

She moved to New York City in 1959 before making her Broadway debut in 1962 in The Aspern Papers.  

She married her husband Louis, who was an actor and producer, that same year.

During their first years of marriage, acting jobs were scarce, and Dukakis worked as a bartender, waitress and other jobs.

She and Zorich 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 

Dukakis has spoken at length of initially struggling to only find parts playing ethnic roles given her Greek heritage and name.

‘It would have been a hell of a lot easier to get acting jobs if my name were Day instead of Dukakis, but then I wouldn’t have had the satisfaction of seeing the family name – my parents’ name – displayed so visibly during that time,’ she wrote in her 2003 autobiography, Ask Me Again Tomorrow: A Life in Progress. 

She is pictured second from left in the 1993 miniseries Tales of the City with Chloe Webb, Laura Linney and Paul Gross

She is pictured second from left in the 1993 miniseries Tales of the City with Chloe Webb, Laura Linney and Paul Gross

She is pictured second from left in the 1993 miniseries Tales of the City with Chloe Webb, Laura Linney and Paul Gross

Dukakis starred alongside John Travolta, Kirstie Alley and George Segal in Look Who's Talking

Dukakis starred alongside John Travolta, Kirstie Alley and George Segal in Look Who's Talking

Dukakis starred alongside John Travolta, Kirstie Alley and George Segal in Look Who’s Talking

She was given a Hollywood Walk of Fame star back in 2013

She was given a Hollywood Walk of Fame star back in 2013

She was given a Hollywood Walk of Fame star back in 2013

She was cast in Moonstruck when she was 56 years old. 

Dukakis recalled taking the role for the money and regarded it as one of her lesser works – despite it being one of most well-known films.  

‘All of the attention I was getting was lovely, of course, but I was more than a little confused about why it had come at this point, and with this role, which, to my mind, was not the greatest part I had ever played,’ she said. 

Her Oscar victory kept the motherly film roles coming. 

She was Kirstie Alley´s mom 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 had been 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.’

For two decades she ran the Whole Theater Company in Montclair, New Jersey, specializing in classic dramas.

While her passion lay in stage, a line from her Oscar-winning performance as Rose nonetheless seemed fitting: ‘I just want you to know no matter what you do, you´re gonna die, just like everybody else.’ 

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