Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis best known for Moonstruck

Actress Olympia Dukakis at the unveiling of her star on the Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, California, in May 2013.
Actress Olympia Dukakis at the unveiling of her star on the Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, California, in May 2013.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • American actress Olympia Dukakis, who won an Oscar for her performance as a sardonic, middle-aged mother who advises her headstrong daughter on matters of love in the romantic film comedy Moonstruck (1987), died last Saturday at age 89.

Dukakis - a cousin of unsuccessful 1988 Democratic United States presidential nominee Michael Dukakis - died at her New York City home last Saturday morning after months of failing health, according to her agent Allison Levy. Dukakis' daughter Christina Zorich was by her side.

Dukakis, the Massachusetts-born daughter of Greek immigrants, worked for decades as a stage, television and film actor before rocketing to fame at age 56 playing the mother of singer Cher's character in Moonstruck.

Dukakis built on that with roles in films including Look Who's Talking (1989) and its sequels (1990, 1993) with John Travolta and Kirstie Alley; Steel Magnolias (1989) with Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field and Julia Roberts; director Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite (1995); and Mr Holland's Opus (1995) with Richard Dreyfuss.

Dukakis, a master of deadpan humour, was also nominated for Emmy awards for television roles in 1991, 1998 and 1999.

In the 1970s, she co-founded the Whole Theatre in the New York City suburb of Montclair, New Jersey, after moving there with her husband, fellow actor Louis Zorich.

But, for many, her most indelible performance came in director Norman Jewison's Moonstruck as Rose Castorini, a Brooklyn woman with a cheating plumber husband (Vincent Gardenia) and a widowed bookkeeper daughter, Loretta (Cher), who has an affair with her fiance's opera-buff brother (Nicolas Cage).

Her banter with Cher was among the film's highlights, including a scene in which she scolded her daughter during a kitchen dissection of her love life. "Your life's going down the toilet," Dukakis said in her throaty voice.

At another point, she tells Cher it is good she did not love her fiance. "When you love them, they drive you crazy because they know they can."

"Olympia Dukakis Was An Amazing, Academy Award Winning Actress," Cher, 74, wrote on Twitter. "I talked to her 3Wks Ago. Rip Dear One."

Moonstruck, considered one of Hollywood's great romantic comedies, won three Academy Awards, including Cher as best actress, and was nominated in three other categories, including best picture. It was also one of the highest-grossing films of 1987.

In accepting her Oscar as best supporting actress in April 1988, when her cousin was battling to become the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, Dukakis thanked Jewison, her husband and a few others.

She then raised the golden statuette over her head and shouted to the worldwide TV audience: "OK, Michael, let's go."

Mr Dukakis won the nomination, but the then Massachusetts governor lost badly in the presidential election to then Republican Vice-President George H.W. Bush.

Dukakis married Zorich in 1962, with whom she had two sons and a daughter. She also had four grandchildren. Zorich died at 93 in 2018.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2021, with the headline 'Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis best known for Moonstruck Obituary'. Subscribe