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Elegant Olympia Dukakis of ‘Steel Magnolias’ Fame Passes Away at 89 [Video]

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Olympia Dukakis, the mistress of elegant wisecracks, passed away in New York City. Her brother confirmed her death on Facebook, Saturday, May 1, 2021 — she was 89.

Apollo Dukakis wrote his sister was at peace; finally. He added that she was now with her husband, who preceded her in death. Allison Levy, the actress’s publicist, confirmed her passing to CNN.

She sported the chiseled features frequently seen in women of Greek ancestry.

During an interview with Eileen Prose, Dukakis reminisced about growing up during the Great Depression. She was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on June 20, 1931. Education was important to her father; he was a lawyer who could not work in his profession. He never lost his belief in education and made sure his daughter attended college. IMDb writes:

She majored in physical therapy at Boston University, where she graduated with a BA. She practiced as a physical therapist during the polio epidemic. She later returned to her alma mater and entered the graduate program in performing arts and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree.

dukakisIn 1962, when she wed actor Louis Zorich, she was in her second year performing at the Williamstown Theatre Festival at the Adams Memorial Theatre Main Stage at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Both Dukakis and Zorich worked in theater before using their talent in films and on TV.

The couple co-founded The Whole Theatre Company in Montclair, New Jersey. They ran the company between 1971 and 1990.

Dukakis proudly talks about raising their children while working in theater — daughter Christina Zorich (1965) and sons Peter (1968) and Stefan Zorich (1971). While raising their kids she worked as an actress, director, producer, and teacher.

When their daughter started college, they paid for it with credit cards, the Greek-American actress told Prose. During that time, she was offered the role of Cher’s sardonic mother, Rose Castorini, in the romantic comedy “Moonstruck.” “That changed everything,” Dukakis explained; it was no longer a concern about how they were going to pay for their kids’ college education.

In addition to the Los Angeles Film Critics, Golden Globe, and American Comedy awards, Dukakis earned an Oscar Award for her Best Supporting Actress in the 1987 film.

Before her smashing big-screen hit, Dukakis tended to gravitate to roles featuring an ethnic mother figure. She portrayed Dustin Hoffman’s mom in the 1969 film, “John and Mary;” she played mother to Joseph Bologna’s Giggy in the 1971 comedy, “Made for Each Other,” and she was Ray Sharkey’s mom in the 1980 biography drama “The Idolmaker.”

One of her unique roles was that of a transgender landlord, Mrs. Anna Madrigal, in the romantic drama TV mini-series, “Tales of the City” (1993 and 2019), “More Tales of the City” (1998), and “Further Tales of the City.”

After “Moonstruck,” Dukakis’s films featured her as a silver-haired mature woman. “She “was frequently first in line for a number of cream-of-the-crop matron roles,” reports IMDb; in 1989, three films were released Dukakis“Steel Magnolias,” “Look Who’s Talking,” and “Dad.” Other films include the 1993 movie “The Cemetary Club,” and two others in 1995 — “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and the horror-thriller film “Mother” as Mrs. Jay.

In 1989, Phil Donahue hosted the female costars from the comedy-drama film “Steel Magnolias;” Sally Fields, Dukakis, Shirley McClain, and Dolly Parton characters had adult children. They were joined by Julia Roberts, whose character Shelby Eatenton Latcherie was central to the plot; Fields played  M’Lynn Eatenton, Shelby’s mom.

The women craftily brought this drama home with a comedic backdrop to ease the bittersweet storyline. They answered Donahue’s questions with candor and humor. Roberts, the youngest, was lovingly teased. When responding to a question about whether or not they grew close during filming “Steel Magnolias,” Fields said:

[It was a] special experience for that, um, getting to be around these women and I know that we’ve made friendships that will last; it was just a really remarkable time.

One of Dukakis’s classic lines of the film occurs near the end, in the cemetery after Shelby’s funeral. M’Lynn, surrounded by her friends, responded with anguished hostility when Darrel Hannah’s character used platitudes to deal with the grief. When M’Lynn says she wants to hit someone, Dukakis’s character, Clairee Belcher, grabs Ouiser Boudreaux (McClain) by her sleeve and says, “[To Ouiser] This is your chance for your fellow man! [To M’Lynn] Knock her lights out!!”

Dukakis and Zorich remained married until he died in 2018; they have four grandchildren. When speaking about the longevity of their marriage, she said:

You don’t stay married for thirty-nine years because of sex or even because of love, but because your partner is a real friend to you because they respect and regard you.

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware

Sources:

CNN: Olympia Dukakis, Oscar-winning ‘Moonstruck’ actress, has died; by Andy Rose
Variety: Cher, Viola Davis and More Pay Tribute to Olympia Dukakis: ‘An Actor’s Actor;’ by Haley Bosselman
IMDb: Olympia Dukakis Biography

Inset Image by Neil Grabowsky Courtesy of Montclair Film’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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