'Steel Magnolias' and 'Moonstruck' actress Olympia Dukakis dies at 89

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Kelsey Koberg
·2 min read
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Oscar-winning actress Olympia Dukakis has died at the age of 89 at her home in New York City. Dukakis is best known for her prominent roles in films such as "Mr. Holland’s Opus," "Steel Magnolias," "Moonstruck."

Dukakis’ brother Apollo Dukakis confirmed her death on Facebook, saying "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 [husband] Louis."

Dukakis rose to prominence when, at the age of 56, she was cast as Cher's cynical mother in "Moonstruck," a role that earned her a Golden Globe and an Oscar. That accomplishment led Dukakis to play widow Clairee Blecher in "Steel Magnolias," transgender landlord Anna Madrigal in the television series "Tales of the City," and Principal Jacobs in "Mr. Holland's Opus."

Dukakis began her acting career on stage and made her Broadway debut in "The Aspern Paper" in 1962. her first TV performance came the same year in episodes of "The Nurses," and "Dr. Kildare," but her acting remained largely on stage until the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"The fun part is that people pass me on the street and yell lines from my movies," the actress told the Los Angeles Times in 1991. "For 'Moonstruck,' they say 'Your life is going down the toilet!' or from 'Dad', they say 'How much are those pork chops?' They say 'Do you know who you are?' It's real funny."

Dukakis was also well-known for philanthropy and political activism, as well as for being the cousin of 1988 democratic presidential nominee Gov. Michael Dukakis. She taught drama at NUY for more than 15 years and co-founded, along with her husband, the Whole Theater Company in Montclair, New Jersey.

In 2003, Dukakis wrote "Ask Me Again Tomorrow: A Life in Progress," and details her struggles as a first-generation Greek-American, battles with addiction, and a career that spanned 40 years.

"Maybe good fortune comes to you for the same reason as bad," Dukakis reflected in a 2001 interview with The Guardian. "It's all about understanding more: you learn a lot of things when you're struggling, and other things when you're what the world calls successful. Or perhaps it's just something that happens. Some days it's cold, some day's it's hot."

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Dukakis Broadway repertoire included Rose in "Rose," Sophie Greengrass in "Social Security," and Ilse in "Who's Who in Hell." Her film appearances included Rosie in "Look Who's Talking," Bette Tremont in "Dad," Stella in "Cloudburst," and Emily Miller in "Fire in the Dark."

Dukakis, the daughter of Greek immigrants, was born in June 1931 in Massachusetts and attended Boston University. She married actor Louis Zorich in 1962, and they remained married until his death in 2018.