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

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

Southbound traffic was reduced to single lane on Highway 97 as a vehicle involved in a collision was being retrieved by a tow truck on Thursday morning, May 6, 2021. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
UPDATE: Northbound truck ends up southbound over Vernon railroad tracks

Cause of Thursday morning crash still under investigation

Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce writes to federal and provincial governments urging action to fill the labour gap. (file)
Vernon chamber calls for action to fill labour shortage

Chamber of Commerce writes to federal and provincial governments about labour gaps

Interior Health provided updated data breaking down the vaccine administration totals in communities throughout the region Monday, May 3, 2021. (File photo)
Vaccination rate continues to climb in North Okanagan

The Vernon health area leads the way with 47 per cent of adults having received their first dose

Good Food Box North Okanagan program coordinator Diane Fleming (second from left) receives $5,000 for the program to support pregnant and new mothers experiencing food insecurity from Spallumcheen’s Hytec, a program sponsor. Making the presentation on behalf of the company are Dennis Meyer (from left), Maral Arvin and Debbit Watchorn (missing is Hollie Rakos). (Photo submitted)
Spallumcheen company digs up food box cash

Hytec donates $5,000 to Good Food Box of North Okanagan society

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

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin checking drivers on BC highways

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Kelowna City Hall. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
New temporary outdoor shelter in Kelowna opens

The new area on Richter Street and Weddell Place replaces the Baillie Avenue site

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Most Read