Dukakis’ brother, Apollo Dukakis, confirmed her death in one Facebook post, writing: “My beloved sister, Olympia Dukakis, passed away this morning in New York City. After many months of poor health, she is finally at peace and with her Louis. “
Her talent agent, Allison Levy, also confirmed the actress’s death to NBC News.
Dukakis was 56 when she became known overnight for her Oscar-winning role in “Moonstruck,” in which she played the mother of Cher’s character with an extraordinary comical ethnic enthusiasm characteristic of the film as a whole. The Washington Post praised Dukakis: Cher and Nicolas Cage are “backed by an equally quirky cast of great supporting players – especially Olympia Dukakis, whose role as Loretta’s world-weary mother Rose is expected to grab Oscar’s attention.”
She referred to her 1988 victory as “the year of the Dukakii,” because it was also the year that Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, her cousin, was the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. At the ceremony, she held her Oscar high above her head and shouted, “Okay, Michael, let’s go!”
Dukakis, who also did a lot of television work, was nominated for an Oscar three times, first for the 1991 TV movie ‘Lucky Day’, the second time for ‘Armistead Maupin’s More Tales of the City’ in 1998 and the third time in 1999 for the mini-series “Jeanne d’Arc.”
Probably earned before her Oscar turned her fortune, Mike Nichol’s “Working Girl” brought Dukakis back to the kind of role she had regularly had for most of her career: she was credited 12th for her role as a human resources director.
However, the following year she came third, behind John Travolta and Kirstie Alley, in baby comedy ‘Look Who’s Talking’, in which she played the mother of the pregnant Alley in a way reminiscent of her work in ‘Moonstruck’. She returned for the 1990 sequel.
Herbert Ross’ 1989 hit ‘Steel Magnolias’, starring Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine and Dukakis, drew women of all ages with its effective sentimentality and even more effective one-liners, but Rolling Stone said, “For real pleasure, stay with MacLaine as the townsman and Dukakis as the rich widow who provokes her to distraction; they are invaluable. “
The actress starred with Diane Ladd and Ellen Burstyn in the 1993 Bill Duke-directed film ‘The Cemetery Club’, about three Jewish women who all become widowed over the course of a year and must reconstruct their lives, featuring the character of Dukakis spiky. . and a strong will.
Dukakis was part of the Greek choir which was either a charming conceit or a crass chorus, depending on who you ask, in Woody Allen’s 1995 romantic comedy “ Mighty Aphrodite, ” in which the choir comments on the Allen’s infidelity. character. Also that year, she appeared as the skeptical, tenacious director in the sentimental Richard Dreyfuss car “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” and as the mother of a gay man in the AIDS drama “Jeffrey.”
The following year she had a small role in the spiritually based film “Jerusalem” by Danish author Bille August. The actress also had a small but powerful role in the 2005 father-son road movie ‘The Thing About My Folks’, starring Peter Falk and Paul Reiser.
In 2006, Dukakis was part of the ensemble cast of ‘The Great New Wonderful’, a vignette series about life in New York City a year after the 9/11 attacks, and she did an excellent job in Sarah Polley’s Alzheimer’s drama ‘Away From Her ”, starring Julie Christie, in which Dukakis’ character provides an unshakably realistic portrayal of a difficult situation – her husband is also an Alzheimer’s patient.
She played a senile grandmother in Jon Kasdan’s “In the Land of Women,” starring Adam Brody, Kristen Stewart and Meg Ryan. But much more interesting was writer-director Thomas Fitzgerald’s 2011 film “Cloudburst”, in which Dukakis starred with Brenda Fricker as a lesbian couple traveling to Canada to get married. Variety said, “Dukakis surpasses even her most memorable previous turns as Stella, the unstoppable old lady determined to free her lover.”
Her TV work included playing Anna Madrigal, the flamboyant matriarch who presides over a San Francisco apartment building, in HBO’s 1993 ‘Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City’ and its 1998 sequel ‘Armistead Maupin’s More Tales of the City’, for which she an Emmy nomination; and the third 2001 entry “Further Tales of the City.”
One of the many TV movies in which Dukakis appeared was HBO and BBC’s “The Last of the Blonde Bombshells” (2000), starring Judi Dench and Ian Holm and focusing on a reunion of a group of women who lived during the Second World War I formed an orchestra in London. .
Dukakis was a regular series in the 2004 CBS short sitcom ‘Center of the Universe’, starring John Goodman and Jean Smart. She has also appeared on numerous TV series, voicing “Frasier” and “The Simpsons” and appearing on “Numbers”; Law & Order: SVU, as a defense attorney; and HBO detective comedy ‘Bored to Death’.
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, Dukakis graduated from Boston University and studied acting with Peter Kass in Boston.
Dukakis’ first experience on Broadway was as an understudy in the 1962 original play “The Aspern Papers,” written by Michael Redgrave, based on a story by Henry James and starring Maurice Evans and Wendy Hiller. Dukakis won an obie in 1963 for her work Off Broadway in Bertolt Brechlt’s Man Equals Man. She took to the stage in 1964 in the one-nighter “Abraham Cochrane”. She returned to Broadway in 1974 in Peter Ustinov’s “Who’s Who in Hell,” but the run was also short-lived. Much more successful was her 1986-87 run in Andrew Bergman’s “Social Security,” directed by Mike Nichols and starring Ron Silver, Marlo Thomas and Joanna Gleason. In 2000 she starred on Broadway in the one-woman show ‘Rose’, in which she played an 80-year-old Jewish woman in Miami Beach who talks to the audience of her life, including her experiences in the Holocaust.
She made her television debut in 1962 in an episode of “The Doctors and the Nurses”, and was also a guest on “Dr. Kildare” the same year. The actress made her big screen debut in the short film “Twice a Man” from 1964. Over the next 10 years, she had a number of small, often unnamed, roles in films, including “Death Wish.” In Peter Yates’ 1969 film “John and Mary”, starring Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow, Dukakis played the mother of the Hoffman character; she also had a supporting role in 1971’s “ Made for Each Other, ” starring Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna.
Dukakis was one of the stars of a 1974 political film by writer-director Jules Dassin called “The Rehearsal”, about the massacre of students protesting against the ruling junta in Greece; many famous people were involved in the film, including Laurence Olivier, Arthur Miller, Melina Mercouri, Maximilian Schell and Arthur Millet, but by the time the film was finished, the junta fell and was not seen in public until decades later this country. In 1975 the actress appeared in a “Great Performances” presentation of a production of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” which also starred Frank Langella, Blythe Danner and Lee Grant. She had supporting roles in Philip Kaufman’s “The Wanderers” in 1979 and in Taylor Hackford’s “The Idolmaker” in 1980. But despite years of earning credits in film, on television and on stage, the actress broke through to “Moonstruck” in 1987.
Much later, Dukakis gave master classes in acting in the US and elsewhere. In July 2020, a documentary about her life entitled “Olympia” was released in the US.
Dukakis’ husband, actor Louis Zorich, died in 2018. She is survived by daughter Christina Zorich, an actress; and sons Peter and Stefan Zorich.