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Olympia Dukakis, theater veteran and Oscar-winning 'Moonstruck' actress, dies at 89

Nardine Saad, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis, the theater veteran who rose to prominence late in her career with memorable turns in 1980s films such as "Moonstruck" and "Steel Magnolias," has died at the age of 89.

Dukakis, who also starred in "Look Who's Talking" and "Mr. Holland's Opus," died at her home in New York City.

"My beloved sister, Olympia Dukakis, passed away this morning in New York City," wrote her brother Apollo, who confirmed her death on his Facebook page Saturday. "After many months of failing health she is finally at peace and with her (husband) Louis (Zorich)." The cause of death has yet to be determined.

The longtime stage actress showcased her talent on a broader stage in 1987 as Cher's sardonic mother in Norman Jewison's romantic classic "Moonstruck." She was 56 when she played meddlesome Italian matriarch Rose Castorini, whose involvement in her widowed daughter's love life and wry concerns about her own straying husband earned Dukakis an Academy Award for supporting actress, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA nomination.

"The fun part is that people pass me on the street and yell lines from my movies: 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," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1991.

Incidentally, her iconic toilet line hadn't been in the script, but was improvised based on experiences with her own mother.

 

Dukakis became a household name in 1988 by way of her Academy Award and her cousin, former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, winning the Democratic nomination in the 1988 presidential election. During her Oscars acceptance speech, she stumped for him, concluding her remarks by spontaneously shouting "OK, Michael, let's go!" as she lifted her Oscar statuette in the air like a baton.

"I felt as though I had run the first leg of a very important race and it was time to hand off that baton to Michael so that he could run the second leg," she wrote in her 2003 autobiography, "Ask Me Again Tomorrow: A Life in Progress."

Her cousin lost the election to George H.W. Bush, but the Dukakis cousins remained politically active. The actress, who had been "clipping coupons and shopping for bargain jeans, while working 10- to 12-hour days at the theater" before her Oscar nomination, was a lifelong arts patron and liberal activist who advocated for numerous causes, particularly women's rights and the environment.

It was her philanthropy and heritage that enabled her name to appear on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2013. The Greek America Foundation, which she long supported, came up with the $30,000 required for the application. Additionally, she was approached to play the matriarch in Nia Vardalos' 2002 runaway hit "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," but declined because of a scheduling conflict, she told The Chicago Tribune in 2003. She added that she "wasn't that enthusiastic about the part."

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