Dukakis, a cousin of defeated Democratic US presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988, died on Saturday morning at her New York City home after months of declining health, according to her agent, Allison Levy. Christina Zorich, her daughter, was by her side.
The Massachusetts-born daughter of Greek immigrants, Dukakis worked for decades as a stage, TV and film actor before rocketing to fame at age 56 playing the mother of Cher’s character in Moonstruck.
Dukakis built on that with roles in films including Look Who’s Talking (1989) and its sequels 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, also was nominated for Emmy awards for TV roles in 1991, 1998 and 1999.
But 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 (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 Dukakis 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.”
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 also was 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, she 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.”
Michael Dukakis won the nomination but lost badly in the general election to Republican George H W Bush. Olympia Dukakis embraced liberal views like her cousin, advocating for causes including women’s rights, gay rights and the environment.
Dukakis was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on 20 June, 1931 and continued to act into her 80s.
Referring to becoming a movie star at an age when many actresses have a hard time finding good roles, Dukakis told The Guardian newspaper in 2012, “Who knows how that happened? Chance, fate or a bit of both. But I’m very glad I did Moonstruck. It meant that I woke up the next day and was finally able to pay the bills.”
Dukakis said she enjoyed her fame after Moonstruck.
“The fun part is that people pass me on the street and yell lines from my movies,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1991. “For Moonstruck they say, ‘You’re life is going down the toilet.'”
Her TV appearances included playing a transgender landlady in the 1993 miniseries Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City and its 1998 and 2001 follow-ups.
Cloudburst (2011), in which she played a foul-mouthed lesbian, Away from Her (2006) with Julie Christie, The Event (2003), Better Living (1998) with Roy Scheider, Never Too Late (1996) with Cloris Leachman, and Dad (1989) with Jack Lemmon and Ted Danson were among her other films.
Dukakis married fellow actor Louis Zorich in 1962 and had two sons and a daughter with him. Her husband passed away in 2018. She had four grandchildren as well.
“My beloved sister, Olympia Dukakis, passed away this morning in New York City,” Apollo Dukakis wrote on Facebook.
“After many months of failing health she is finally at peace and with her [husband] Louis.”
– Reuters / BBC