Coronavirus: American playwright Terrence McNally dies of complications

A 2014 photo shows Terrence McNally at his home in New York.
A 2014 photo shows Terrence McNally at his home in New York.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (AFP) - Terrence McNally, a revered American playwright, librettist and screenwriter whose long career earned him four Tony awards and an Emmy, died on Tuesday (March 24) following coronavirus complications. He was 81 years old.

McNally's publicist said in a statement sent to AFP that the esteemed artist was a lung cancer survivor who lived with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He died while hospitalised in Florida.

An openly gay writer whose subject matter included love, homophobia and Aids, McNally's notable plays included Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class, along with the musicals Kiss Of The Spider Woman and Ragtime.

Tributes quickly poured in from Broadway, with Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame dubbing the prolific McNally "a giant in our world, who straddled plays and musicals deftly. Grateful for his staggering body of work and his unfailing kindness."

"He was an absolute gentleman and his commitment to the theater was unwavering," tweeted British actor and comedian James Corden. "He will be missed by so many of us."

McNally is one of the first celebrities to succumb to the novel coronavirus, which has killed at least 16,961 people worldwide, according to the latest AFP tally.

His death comes hours after veteran Afro-jazz legend Manu Dibango died after contracting Covid-19.

Born in St Petersburg, Florida, McNally was raised in Corpus Christi, Texas. He finished his English degree at New York's Columbia University in 1960, graduating with high honors.

He first wrote for Broadway at age 23, building his reputation steadily throughout his 20s and 30s as a playwright with sarcastic flair who deftly challenged social norms and authority while maintaining an approachable appeal.

But it wasn't until 1987 that he became a household name at age 48, when he began cleaning up awards and ascending in to the upper echelons of American playwrighting.

His work Lips Together, Teeth Apart is considered a landmark play on the subject of Aids, while his comedic farce The Ritz featured unabashedly gay characters and was a mainstream hit.

"The world needs artists more than ever to remind us what truth and beauty and kindness really are," he said in accepting his lifetime achievement award at the 2019 Tonys, the annual awards for excellence in theatre. "Theatre changes hearts, that secret place where we all truly live."