Olympia Dukakis, Oscar-winning actress, dies aged 89

Kristine Tarbert
·Features and Health Editor
·4-min read

Veteran stage and screen actor Olympia Dukakis has died at the age of 89, with her family confirming the news in a statement, revealing she had been in failing health for months.

Tributes have been pouring in for the actress who won an Oscar for her role as Cher’s overbearing mother in the romantic comedy 'Moonstruck'.

"My beloved sister, Olympia Dukakis, passed away this morning in New York City," her brother Apollo wrote on Facebook.

"After many months of failing health she is finally at peace and with her [husband] Louis [Zorich]."

Allison Levy, Olympia's agent at Innovative Artists, confirmed the star died on Saturday morning in her NY home, but a cause of death was not immediately released.

Olympia Dukakis attends
Olympia Dukakis has died at the age of 89. Photo: Getty

Olympia, 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.


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, Olympia moved to New York and married Louis Zorich.

Olympia Dukakis And Cher at the 45th Golden Globe Awards
Olympia Dukakis and Cher at the 45th Golden Globe Awards in 1988. Photo: AP

Olympia won her Oscar for best supporting actress for her work in 'Moonstruck' (1987) – with Cher taking home the best actress gong. It also earned them both a Golden Globe and a BAFTA nomination.

She also won acclaim for her role as a gossip hound at a small town Louisiana hair salon in 'Steel Magnolias,' (1989) which also featured Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field and Daryl Hannah.

By 1988, she was a household name in America because of the Oscar win and because her cousin Michael Dukakis had won the Democratic presidential nomination.

Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts and Daryl Hannah
Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts and Daryl Hannah. Photo: AP

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', 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'.

Olympia is survived by her children Christina, Stefan and Peter; her brother Apollo Dukakis; and four grandchildren. Her husband Louis died in January 2018 at age 93.

Hollywood flocked to social media to express similar sentiments and pay their respects to the character actors’ illustrious legacy.

Cher paid tribute on Twitter, writing: “Olympia Dukakis Was an Amazing, Academy Award Winning Actress. Olympia Played My Mom In Moonstruck & Even Though Her Part was That Of a Suffering Wife, We 😂 ALL The Time. She Would Tell Me How MUCH She Loved Louis, Her Handsome Talented, Husband. I Talked To Her 3Wks Ago. Rip Dear One."

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Actress and 2020 Oscar nominee Viola Davis called Olympia “the consummate actor.” 

“You made all around you step up their game. A joy to work with. Rest well," the star shared online.

Actor George Takei also reflected on her talent, writing: “Olympia Dukakis has departed our company. We were Moonstruck by her, as she told us Great Tales of the City. A true Steel Magnolia within a more common forest. Ah, what a life force, her later years her best. Rest now among the heaves, Olympia.”

Additional reporting by AFP and AP.

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