Already have an account?
Get back to the

Olympia Dukakis: The Life and Career of the Shining Star of Stage and Screen

A force to be reckoned with

Olympia Dukakis could not be put into a box. The award-winning actress, who passed away in 2021 at the age of 89, was more than just the characters she played on the screen. The Massachusetts native was an author as well, and has additionally been recognized for her advocacy for women’s rights.

Before we saw her in famous films like Moonstruck (1987), Steel Magnolias (1989) and In the Land of Women (2007), Dukakis enjoyed a long and illustrious career on the stage.

While still in Massachusetts, the actress built up her resume by taking part in numerous theatrical productions before making the big leap to the one and only, New York City.

Olympia Dukakis, Apollo Dukakis and and Judith Delgado in Waiting for Godot, Montclair, New Jersey, 1980
Olympia Dukakis, Apollo Dukakis and and Judith Delgado in Waiting for Godot, Montclair, New Jersey, 1980Barbara Alper/Getty Images

Upon arriving in the city, Olympia Dukakis cultivated her craft, even winning an Obie Award for Distinguished Performance for her role in Man Equals Man (a.k.a. A Man’s A Man) off-Broadway. Before long, however, she began to focus some of her attention to work on the screen.

Olympia Dukakis makes her way to the screen

The actress’ first credited role came in a 1962 episode of The Doctors and the Nurses. From there, she could be seen across both television and film.

The actress in 1988
Olympia Dukakis, 1988Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

Her first notable film role came in 1987’s Moonstruck, opposite Cher, Nicolas Cage, Danny Aiello and more.

MUST-READ: ‘Moonstruck’ Cast Then and Now: Catch Up With the Stars of The 1987 Rom-Com

Dukakis played the part of Rose Castorini, the opinionated, yet hilarious mother to Cher’s character of Loretta, who finds herself involved in a love triangle with two brothers.

In a 2013 interview with CBC, the actress looked back on how important the role was to her, not only in terms of career projection, but also in her personal life.

Olympia Dukakis, Nicolas Cage, Cher, and Danny Aiello on the set of Moonstruck, 1987
Olympia Dukakis, Nicolas Cage, Cher, and Danny Aiello on the set of Moonstruck, 1987Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

That changed my whole life,” she said. “My daughter was going to college on credit cards when I did that movie. After that we were able to send our children to college with no problems.”

She continued, “It felt like I was going to be a good parent,” she said. “You know how it feels like when you can’t do those things? You feel like you failed. But the fact that…we were able to do that made me feel that I provided.”

For her role as Rose Castorini in Moonstruck, Olympia Dukakis won the Oscar, as well as the Golden Globe, for Best Supporting Actress.

Success for Olympia Dukakis after Moonstruck

Movies that came in the wake of Moonstruck were those such as Working Girl (1988), Look Who’s Talking (1989) and Dad (1989).

In 1989, however, she nagged another hit role in Steel Magnolias (1989). The film, which followed the intertwined lives of six women as they experience love, loss and friendship, has been celebrated long after its 1989 release.

Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts and Daryl Hannah, Steel Magnolias cast, 1989
Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts and Daryl Hannah, Steel Magnolias cast, 1989Robin Platzer/Getty Images

MUST-READ: ‘Steel Magnolias’ Cast Then and Now — See What This Group of A-Listers Has Been Up to Since the Film’s 1989 Release

Olympia Dukakis played the part of Clairee Belcher, widow of the town’s former mayor and known for her particularly dry and sarcastic sense of humor.

In a 2019 interview with the Huffington Post, the actress reflected on working in the film, noting that she was aware of how special it was.

There were so few films that were about women and women’s friendships,” she said. “You see that all the time with men but you don’t see it with women. So it was really special. I thought it was great for everybody.”

Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah and Olympia Dukakis, 1990
Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah and Olympia Dukakis, 1990Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

Dukakis acted alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest players in the film, including Daryl Hannah, Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field and Shirley MacLaine.

MUST-READ: 14 Must-See Photos of Young Sally Field that Prove She Was Born to Be a Star

Of her co-star Julia Roberts, Dukakis predicted there was much on the horizon for the young actress.

She told the Huffington Post, “I could tell that she had a future, absolutely.”

MUST-READ: From ‘Mystic Pizza’ to ‘Erin Brockovich,’ Our 10 Favorite Julia Roberts Movies, Ranked!

The 90s and beyond

Ellen Burstyn and Olympia Dukakis, The Cemetery Club, 1993
Ellen Burstyn and Olympia Dukakis, The Cemetery Club, 1993Touchstone Pictures/Getty Images

For actress Olympia Dukakis, at this point in time, she had made a name for herself as a talented and capable actress outside of the theaters she spent so much time honing her craft in.

Both film and television roles continued to come her way, seen in movies like Look Who’s Talking Too (1990), Lucky Day (1991), Fire In the Dark (1991), and in shows like Sinatra, where she played mother to the famed singer, Dolly Sinatra.

Another show she made waves on was Tales of the City in 1993, for which she even earned an Emmy nomination for.

Olympia Dukakis in Tales Of The City, 1993
Olympia Dukakis in Tales Of The City, 1993PBS/Getty Images

Olympia the author

In 2001, the author published her memoir titled Ask Me Again Tomorrow: A Life In Progress. The book breaks down the struggle she faced growing up as a Greek-American girl grappling with her desires for a traditionally American life while honoring her family’s Greek traditions.

The actress with her book, 'Ask Me Again Tomorrow', 2003
Olympia Dukakis holidng her book, Ask Me Again Tomorrow, 2003Stephen Lovekin/FilmMagic/Getty Images

In a 2003 interview with Publishers Weekly, Olympia broke down the book’s structure and why she chose to write it the way she did, beginning with her Oscar win and then jumping backwards to her childhood.

I just didn’t want to write the book in a linear way. I’d read so many of these autobiographies that went, ‘and then I was born, and then this happened, and then that happened.’ I wanted to organize the book around concerns that I’ve had all my life, issues that have confounded me, like my ethnicity and gender bias. I’m still confounded by those issues!,” she said with a laugh.

Olympia Dukakis always had a soft spot for the stage

Darren Pettie and Olympia Dukakis at the Broadway opening night of The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, 2011
Darren Pettie and Olympia Dukakis at the Broadway opening night of The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, 2011 Michael Stewart/WireImage/Getty Images

Despite having success on the screen, the actress always felt a draw to the stage throughout her career, even in the wake of her biggest successes.

“I felt very committed to my theater company,” she said in her 2003 interview with Publishers Weekly when asked why she stuck largely to theatre after her Academy Award win.

“After Rose (her Moonstruck character), I did Steel Magnolias and other films, but theater for me is alive. You get out every night and you make it happen. With movies, you do all these different takes and then somebody else puts it together.”

2000s, 2010s and the actress’ final years

With the turn of the century, Olympia Dukakis did not slow down. She continued to work across both screen and stage, and even did some directing.

In 2018, the documentary film Olympia premiered, which chronicled her life and career. Her last credited role was in the 2021 film, Not to Forget.

The actress in 2002
Olympia Dukakis, 2002J. Vespa/WireImage/Getty Images

On May 1, 2021, she died at age 89, announced to Facebook by her brother, Apollo Dukakis, who wrote in the post, “My beloved sister, Olympia Dukakis, passed away this morning in New York City. After many months of failing health she is finally at peace and with her Louis.”

Although she isn’t with us any longer, she will always be remembered for the permanent mark she left on the acting world.

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.