Olympia Dukakis as seen on Netflix’s “Tales of The City” (2019). (Hand-out photo: Alison Cohn Rosa / ©Netflix / Courtesy: Everett Collection via CP Images)

Olympia Dukakis as seen on Netflix’s “Tales of The City” (2019). (Hand-out photo: Alison Cohn Rosa / ©Netflix / Courtesy: Everett Collection via CP Images)

Oscar-winning ‘Moonstruck’ star Olympia Dukakis dies at 89

The veteran stage and screen actor’s flair for maternal roles helped her win and Cher’s mother in the romantic comedy

Olympia Dukakis, the veteran stage and screen actor whose flair for maternal roles helped her win an Oscar as Cher’s mother in the romantic comedy “Moonstruck,” has died. She was 89.

Dukakis died Saturday morning in her home in New York City, according to Allison Levy, her agent at Innovative Artists. 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 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.”

Dukakis 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, was the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. At the ceremony, she held her Oscar high over her head and called out: “OK, Michael, let’s go!”

In 1989, her Oscar statuette was stolen from Dukakis’ New Jersey home.

“We’re not pretentious,” her husband, actor Louis Zorich, said at the time. “We kept the Oscar in the kitchen.”

Dukakis, who was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, had yearned to be an actor from an early age and had hoped to study drama in college. Her Greek immigrant 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.

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 theatre 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 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 Zorich.

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 of New York.

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.”

Her recent projects included the 2019 TV miniseries “Tales of the City” and the upcoming film “Not to Forgot.”

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 WWII.

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

Zorich died in January 2018 at age 93.

Dukakis is survived by her children Christina, Stefan and Peter; her brother Apollo Dukakis; and four grandchildren.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Movies & TVObituary

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dan Joseph shared a sunset picture looking out over the Fraser River. What does the sunset look like for you today (Mother’s Day). (Special to The News)
SHARE: What does the sunset look like for you tonight?

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

Hikaru Ozduman won Outstanding Effort at the 33rd annual British Columbia Japanese Speech Contest. (SD42/Special to The News)
Maple Ridge student earns award for speech – in Japanese

The 33rd annual British Columbia Japanese Speech Contest was held virtually in March

Have an opinion you’d like to share? Submit letters to the editor through our website, via email or the postal service. (Heather Colpitts/Black Press Media)
LETTER: Maple Ridge man suggests those who flout COVID rules forego taxpayer health-care

People following rules to help end pandemic frustrated by those who don’t, letter writer says

Ken Nunes is one of hundreds who venture out onto Alouette Lake in Golden Ears Provincial Park when the sun comes out. “Here’s how I see Maple Ridge,” he said. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Nice weather draws people to the water

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of May 9

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

Vancouver Giants celebrated a Justin Sourdif goal Saturday night in Kamloops. Giants dropped a 3-1 decision to Kamloops, a game that clinched the 2020-21 B.C. Division banner for the Blazers. (Allen Douglas/special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Vancouver Giants drop 3-1 decision to Kamloops

Third-period rally should have come sooner, said coach of Langley-based team

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country’s crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
IHIT investigating after man killed in Burnaby shooting

Police looking for more information on fatal shooting

After Bobby Henderson apologized online for his comments to a Toronto reporter, the Langley Rivermen announced that he was no longer team coach and general manager and in fact, had ‘parted ways’ with the franchise in March. (file/Twitter)
Former Langley Rivermen coach and GM apologizes for comments to Toronto reporter

Bobby Henderson blames stress due to the pandemic for his ‘disparaging’ remarks

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

Most Read