June 20, 1931 – May 1, 2021
Olympia Dukakis, who won an Oscar for her role as Cher’s mother in the romantic comedy "Moonstruck," died May 1, 2021. She was 89.
On Saturday, Dukakis’ brother, Apollo, broke the news of her death on Facebook. “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 Louis,” Apollo posted, referring to Broadway veteran Louis Zorich, who was Dukakis’ late husband.
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on June 20, 1931, to Greek immigrant parents, Dukakis and her brother grew up first-generation Greek Americans in New England.
As a self-proclaimed “poster child for the bad Greek daughter,” Dukakis tried to stay true to her Greek heritage while living in Lowell.
Dukakis yearned to be an actress from an early age, but her 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 a hospital in Marmet, West Virginia, and the Hospital for Contagious Diseases in Boston. However, she eventually studied drama at Boston University, where she earned a master’s in performing arts.
When she first arrived in New York in 1959, she could find only parts playing ethnic roles, which were scarce at the time.
With minimal roles available, Dukakis turned to Broadway, where she debuted in 1962 in "The Aspen Papers". That same year, she married Zorich, who rose to fame on the television show "Mad About You."
One year later, she won the Obie Award for "A Man’s Man"; she won the same award two years later for her role in "The Marriage of Bette and Boo."
Then in 1964, she caught the eye of Norman Jewison, director of "Moonstruck," with her role in the Broadway comedy "Social Security."
In the 1970s, Dukakis and her husband founded the Charles Playhouse in Boston and the Whole Theater in Montclair, New Jersey.
Her stardom skyrocketed when she played Cher’s mother in Jewison’s romantic classic "Moonstruck" in 1987, subsequently earning her an Academy Award for supporting actress. In addition to winning an Oscar, she also earned Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Dukakis became a household name and was offered much more substantive roles.
In 1989, she starred alongside Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Dolly Parton and Daryl Hannah in Herbert Ross’ classic film adaptation of "Steel Magnolias."
The same year, she portrayed Kristie Alley’s overbearing mom in "Look Who’s Talking." Dukakis was regularly cast in motherly roles throughout her career, starring in more than 100 films and television shows, some of which include "Mr. Holland’s Opus," "In the Land of Women" and "Joan of Arc."
In addition to acting, Dukakis was also a drama teacher at New York University for more than 15 years.
Dukakis was also the first cousin of former Gov. Michael Dukakis, who became the democratic presidential nominee in 1988, but ultimately lost to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.
She is survived by her sons Stefan and Peter, daughter Christina and four grandchildren.