Terrence McNally, Tony-winning playwright, dead of coronavirus complications at 81

One of America’s great playwrights, whose prolific career included winning multiple Tony Awards, has died of complications from the coronavirus.

Terrence McNally, known for the plays “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “Master Class” and the musicals “Ragtime” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” was 81.

McNally died Tuesday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Fla., according to representative Matt Polk.

McNally was a lung cancer survivor who lived with chronic inflammatory lung disease.

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His plays and musicals explored how people connect — or fail to. With wit and thoughtfulness, he tackled the strains in families, war, and relationships and probed the spark and costs of creativity. He was an openly gay writer who wrote about homophobia, love and AIDS.

“I like to work with people who are a lot more talented and smarter than me, who make fewer mistakes than I do, and who can call me out when I do something lazy,” he told LA Stage Times in 2013. “A lot of people stop learning in life, and that’s their tragedy.”

May 14, 2006: Tony Award winning playwright Terrence McNally in front of the Philadelphia Theater Company in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr)

May 14, 2006: Tony Award winning playwright Terrence McNally in front of the Philadelphia Theater Company in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr)

In 2018 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He won four Tonys and an Emmy. New York University gave him an honorary doctorate in 2019.

Andrew D. Hamilton, president of New York University, told the crowd that day that McNally put a “unique stamp on American drama by probing the urgent need for connection that resonates at the core of human experience.”

McNally sometimes was controversial, especially with his play “Corpus Christi,” which depicts a modern-day Jesus as a homosexual. The Manhattan Theater Club, the first company to consider staging it, received death threats and temporarily canceled the production before enjoying a successful run.

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When picking up his “Ragtime” Tony Award, McNally thanked the theater community for its outcry.

“You came together when I was in trouble. It was a time of oppression. You came together overnight. Our voices were heard, and we won.” Holding his Tony high, he said, “So this is for freedom. Thank you.”

McNally and his partner, Thomas Kirdahy, married in Vermont in 2003, and again in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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