Famed actress Olympia Dukakis, founder of Montclair’s Whole Theater, dies at 89
By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
Olympia Dukakis, the famed actress who caught the world's attention as Cher's mother in "Moonstruck," has died at age 89, according to multiple reports.
Dukakis had been a nearly 30-year resident of Montclair, where she and her husband, Louis Zorich, were founding members of the Whole Theater Company, before later moving to Manhattan. Zorich died in 2018.
"Our mother, Olympia Dukakis, passed today peacefully in her home," her son Peter Zorich, a Montclair resident, wrote on Facebook. "She was the smartest most impressive person I will ever know. A real tour de force who set the bar impossibly high. She lived her life with pride and passion. She and my father are running lines together somewhere. I'll see you in my dreams."
The New York Times recounts her time in Montclair in a 2003 article: She and Louis Zorich moved to the community in 1970 to raise their children. In 1973, Whole Theater produced "Our Town." With Dukakis as producing artistic director, it continued to put on five plays a season for the next 17 years, the Times wrote. Among the actors to appear on the theater's stage: Jose Ferrer, Colleen Dewhurst, Blythe Danner, Samuel L. Jackson, Louis Zorich and Dukakis herself.
"During their years in Montclair, the couple and their three children, and later Mrs. Dukakis's mother, lived in a big house on Mountain Avenue with dormer windows, tall trees and a deep lawn," the Times wrote. It noted a passage from Dukakis's autobiography, describing how she waited at that same Montclair home for the announcement of the 1987 Oscar nominations; she and Cher both won awards for their "Moonstruck" performances." ultimately. Then-Gov. Thomas Kean gave her a sendoff when she flew to Hollywood for the ceremony; Montclair gave her a parade when she returned.
The Whole Theater ultimately closed in 1990 after struggling through government budget cuts. Dukakis and her family moved out of town nine years after the theater shut down, as described by Montclair Local in 2019, when Dukakis appeared for a Q&A session to accompany a showing of the documentary "Olympia" by the Montclair Film Festival.
“Montclair really embraced the Whole Theater for about 25 years,” Dukakis said at the time. “Subscribers came from New York, and actors came from New York. We had some good times. It meant a lot to me, that theater, that company, that audience, and to make me feel wanted.”