'Steel Magnolias' Star, Oscar Winner Olympia Dukakis, Dead at 89

Olympia Dukakis and Dolly Parton in "Steel Magnolias," image courtesy of Rastar/TriStar Pictures

Just one day shy of a week past this year’s Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood, the glowing constellation made up of premier, American actresses has now dimmed by one star, with the death of Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis at age 89, according to reports Saturday from numerous outlets.

The Hollywood Reporter:

Olympia Dukakis, the dignified actress who received a supporting Oscar for her performance as Cher’s nitpicking Brooklyn mother in Moonstruck, died Saturday. She was 89.

Dukakis died in New York, her brother Apollo wrote on Facebook. “After many months of failing health she is finally at peace and with her [husband] Louis.”

The New York Times:

Olympia Dukakis was born on June 20, 1931, in Lowell, Mass., the older of two children of Constantine and Alexandra (Christos) Dukakis, both Greek immigrants. Her father worked in various settings, including a munitions factory, a printing business and the quality control department of Lever Brothers. He also founded an amateur theater company.

Olympia graduated from Boston University with a degree in physical therapy and practiced that occupation, traveling to West Virginia, Minnesota and Texas during the worst days of the midcentury polio epidemic. Eventually she earned enough money to return to B.U. to study theater.

The NYT also noted Olympia’s close connection to presidential politics, entwined forever with her Oscar win for her iconic role in “Moonstruck”:

The role won Ms. Dukakis the Oscar for best supporting actress (Cher also won) and a host of other prizes in 1988 — the same year her cousin Michael Dukakis won the Democratic presidential nomination. The award led to more film roles.

THR included a charming anecdote about how the actress and her fellow actor husband met and fell in love.

Her husband of 55 years, stage and character actor Louis Zorich (Paul Reiser’s father Mad About You), died in January 2018 at age 93.

[…]
She met Zorich, a Chicago native, during an audition for an off-Broadway play. Neither got the part, but they did get each other. He gave her a 98-cent wedding ring that he purchased at Woolworth’s, and they got married at City Hall.

“I remember her eyes, she was very sexy, and I said, ‘Oh, my God, this woman …,” Zorich said in the Undefined documentary. “And she wasn’t a shrinking violet; she never was.”

And listed a few of her best-known movie roles — all of them coming after Olympia turned forty.

The late-blooming star also was known for her turn as Clairee Belcher, a woman of fiber and the elegant widowed friend of Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine), in Herbert Ross’ Steel Magnolias (1989), and she portrayed a personnel director in Working Girl (1988) and a principal in Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995).

The NYT wrote, “In addition to her brother, she is survived by their three children, Christina, Peter and Stefan Zorich; and four grandchildren.”

Adding that the actress returned to her first love, the stage, after many movie and TV roles — a move which garnered her more recognition for her theater work:

Dukakis also won Obie Awards for her work in Bertolt Brecht’s A Man’s a Man and Christopher Durang’s The Marriage of Bette and Boo and starred in The Memorandum and Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class.

Olympia was remembered on social media by former castmates, including “Moonstruck’s” Cher and Kirstie Alley, whom she co-starred with in the three, “Look Who’s Talking” movies.

And Townhall Media’s Ed Morrissey shared his thoughts on the actress’ passing:

Here’s a classic line from her role in “Steel Magnolias”: “As somebody always said, ‘If you can’t say anything nice about anybody…come sit by me.'”

R.I.P.

H/T Ed Morrissey

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