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

As the BC CDC reports on May 5 declining pandemic numbers and only one case of COVID-19 in Prince Rupert, the vehicles parked outside the local testing center also decrease. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Prince Rupert COVID-19 numbers down again

Second outbreak at Acropolis declared over

Northern Health Authority is requesting local residents to refrain from attending the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital unless necessary, as some services have been affected by a fire on May 5. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Fire at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital creates a reduction in services

Northern Health is asking residents to not attend hospital unless necessary

“Skeena,” by John Hudson and Paul Hanslow is one of five fonts in the running to become the default for Microsoft systems and Office programs. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Font named after Skeena River could become the next Microsoft default

One of the five new fonts will replace Calibri, which has been Microsoft’s default since 2007

Prince Rupert Firefighters Dylan Sidoni, Jon Bonneschranz and Derek Kormendi were commended in April with receiving the department’s first life-saving award, after they rescued a male victim from a burning building on Oct. 5, 2020. Tim Dopko, not present, was awarded Firefighter of the Year. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Prince Rupert Firefighters receive awards

New awards presented commending outstanding efforts for life-saving and firefighter of the year

Shawn Pettitt retired as Port Edward Fire Cheif and was honoured by the crew with the presentation of a specially engraved fire axe on April 20. (Photo: Supplied)
30-years of dedication to fire department

Retired Port Edward fire chief’s service is honoured by department

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O���Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Members of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. (File photo)
B.C.-wide #DayOfMusic to feature 100-plus free virtual concerts May 15

‘Our colleagues across the province have figured out new ways to perform and connect,’ VSO boss says

Two passengers were recently fined thousands of dollars after they faked their pre-flight COVID-19 test results. (Paul Clarke/Black Press)
2 passengers in Canada fined thousands for faking pre-flight COVID-19 tests

The government issued a warning Thursday to others thinking of doing the same

(File)
With revenge porn on the rise in 2021, B.C. seeks feedback for new legislation

New legislation could help victims take down images and receive compensation

(Kamloops This Week file photo)
Federal police unit takes over probe of B.C. regional district’s spending

Financial Integrity Sensitive Investigations Unit is now reviewing the case

A black bear made a visit to downtown Vancouver Tuesday, May 4. The animal was spotted on train tracks in Gastown shortly after at 2:30 p.m. (Twitter/Craig Minielly)
VIDEO: Black bear spotted meandering around downtown Vancouver

The bear was reportedly tranquilized by conservation officers Tuesday afternoon

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
Interior Health locks out Kelowna martial arts gym following COVID violations

Actions were taken after all other steps to gain compliance were exhausted, says health authority

A man who allegedly spat at and yelled racial slurs at an Asian family was arrested for hate-motivated assault Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
Arrest made after man spits, yells anti-Asian racial slurs at Victoria mom and kids

The man was arrested for hate-motivated assault near Quadra Elementary School Tuesday

A lady wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada may find it challenging to reach herd immunity from COVID-19, experts say

Level of immunity among the population changes with the variants, especially the more transmissible strains

Most Read